A Rhythmic Theory of Attention

Ian C. Fiebelkorn, Sabine Kastner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

239 Scopus citations


Recent evidence has demonstrated that environmental sampling is a fundamentally rhythmic process. Both perceptual sensitivity during covert spatial attention and the probability of overt exploratory movements are tethered to theta-band activity (3–8 Hz) in the attention network. The fronto-parietal part of this network is positioned at the nexus of sensory and motor functions, directing two tightly coupled processes related to environmental exploration: preferential routing of sensory input and saccadic eye movements. We propose that intrinsic theta rhythms temporally resolve potential functional conflicts by periodically reweighting functional connections between higher-order brain regions and either sensory or motor regions. This rhythmic reweighting alternately promotes either sampling at a behaviorally relevant location (i.e., sensory functions) or shifting to another location (i.e., motor functions).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-101
Number of pages15
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


  • attention
  • motor
  • oscillations
  • saccades
  • theta
  • vision


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