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Neural Processing of Bimodal Tasks: An fMRI Study

Research Scholar

Tzu-Ching Chiang, Psychology (Taiwan)
Keng-Chen Liang, Co-Researcher
Jyh-Horng Chen, Co-Researcher
Chao-Hsieh Hsieh, Co-Researcher
Yun-An Huang, Co-Researcher
Zhong-Ling Lu, Faculty Mentor


Tzu-ching (TC) Chiang is a visiting scholar from Taiwan working with Zhong-Ling Lu in the Department of Psychology at The Ohio State University. Chiang graduated from University College London in 2006 and continued postdoctorial research there until 2008. His PhD thesis was about interhemispheric interaction between vision and motor cortices by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). Chiang broadens his research experience by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on the feature binding and bimodal interaction. His current project focuses on visual illusion in relation to attention and the low level visual stimuli.

What is the issue or problem addressed in your research?

While it is known that some individuals can effectively perform two tasks simultaneously, other individuals cannot. How the brain deals with performing simultaneous tasks remains unclear.

What methodology did you use in your research?

In the present study, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to assess corresponding brain areas relevant to different phenomena. Subjects were requested to perform 3 tasks including two unimodal tasks and one bimodal task. The unimodal tasks measured visual feature binding and auditory pitch comparison, while the bimodal task required performance of the two single tasks simultaneously. The rationale was to examine how attention resources were allocated to different modalities: Are extra brain areas different from modality-specific brain areas required to perform the bimodal task? If yes, what is the suggested function of the extra brain areas?

The fMRI results demonstrated the distinct brain areas, such as visual cortices, frontal eye field (FEF), lateral parietal lobe (BA7), and medial and inferior frontal lobe, involved in processing of visual unimodal tasks, compared to the blank screen. In contrast, the temporal lobes and broadman area 43 (BA43) were involved in processing of auditory unimodal tasks, compared to the blank screen. These results lent support to concepts of modal-specific attention. Compared to the unimodal tasks, bimodal tasks required activation of additional brain areas of the two unimodal tasks. Furthermore, good performance in the bimodal task resulted in deactivated brain areas compared to good performance in only one task in the bimodal task.

What are the purpose/rationale and implications of your research?

These results suggest that the efficient information processing does not mean the over brain activity, rather the brain needs to be relatively deactivated to keep ‘alert” to perform well on two tasks. Meanwhile, it can also offer a neural basis of bio-feedbacks of training courses, like 'How to perform multiple tasks simultaneously.