Oscillatory bursts in parietal cortex reflect dynamic attention between multiple objects and ensembles

Andreas Wutz, Agnese Zazio, Nathan Weisz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The visual system uses two complimentary strategies to process multiple objects simultaneously within a scene and update their spatial positions in real time. It either uses selective attention to individuate a complex, dynamic scene into a few focal objects (i.e., object individuation), or it represents multiple objects as an ensemble by distributing attention more globally across the scene (i.e., ensemble grouping). Neural oscillations may be a key signature for focal object individuation versus distributed ensemble grouping, because they are thought to regulate neural excitability over visual areas through inhibitory control mechanisms. We recorded whole-head MEG data during a multiple-object tracking paradigm, in which human participants (13 female, 11 male) switched between different instructions for object individuation and ensemble grouping on different trials. The stimuli, responses, and the demand to keep track of multiple spatial locations over time were held constant between the two conditions. We observed increased a-band power (9-13 Hz) packed into oscillatory bursts in bilateral inferior parietal cortex during multiple-object processing. Single-trial analysis revealed greater burst occurrences on object individuation versus ensemble grouping trials. By contrast, we found no differences using standard analyses on across-trials averaged a-band power. Moreover, the bursting effects occurred only below/at, but not above, the typical capacity limits for multiple-object processing (at;4 objects). Our findings reveal the real-time neural correlates underlying the dynamic processing of multiple-object scenarios, which are modulated by grouping strategies and capacity. They support a rhythmic, a-pulsed organization of dynamic attention to multiple objects and ensembles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6927-6937
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number36
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2 2020


  • Dynamic attention
  • Ensemble attention
  • Multiple-object attention
  • Neural oscillations
  • Parietal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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