Neural mechanisms of visual attention: object-based selection of a region in space

C M Arrington, T H Carr, A R Mayer, S M Rao
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 2000, 12: 106-17
Objects play an important role in guiding spatial attention through a cluttered visual environment. We used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (ER-fMRI) to measure brain activity during cued discrimination tasks requiring subjects to orient attention either to a region bounded by an object (object-based spatial attention) or to an unbounded region of space (location-based spatial attention) in anticipation of an upcoming target. Comparison between the two tasks revealed greater activation when attention selected a region bounded by an object. This activation was strongly lateralized to the left hemisphere and formed a widely distributed network including (a) attentional structures in parietal and temporal cortex and thalamus, (b) ventral-stream object processing structures in occipital, inferior-temporal, and parahippocampal cortex, and (c) control structures in medial- and dorsolateral-prefrontal cortex. These results suggest that object-based spatial selection is achieved by imposing additional constraints over and above those processes already operating to achieve selection of an unbounded region. In addition, ER-fMRI methodology allowed a comparison of validly versus invalidly cued trials, thereby delineating brain structures involved in the reorientation of attention after its initial deployment proved incorrect. All areas of activation that differentiated between these two trial types resulted from greater activity during the invalid trials. This outcome suggests that all brain areas involved in attentional orienting and task performance in response to valid cues are also involved on invalid trials. During invalid trials, additional brain regions are recruited when a perceiver recovers from invalid cueing and reorients attention to a target appearing at an uncued location. Activated brain areas specific to attentional reorientation were strongly right-lateralized and included posterior temporal and inferior parietal regions previously implicated in visual attention processes, as well as prefrontal regions that likely subserve control processes, particularly related to inhibition of inappropriate responding.

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