Effects of feature-selective and spatial attention at different stages of visual processing

Søren K Andersen, Sandra Fuchs, Matthias M Müller
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 2011, 23 (1): 238-46
We investigated mechanisms of concurrent attentional selection of location and color using electrophysiological measures in human subjects. Two completely overlapping random dot kinematograms (RDKs) of two different colors were presented on either side of a central fixation cross. On each trial, participants attended one of these four RDKs, defined by its specific combination of color and location, in order to detect coherent motion targets. Sustained attentional selection while monitoring for targets was measured by means of steady-state visual evoked potentials (SSVEPs) elicited by the frequency-tagged RDKs. Attentional selection of transient targets and distractors was assessed by behavioral responses and by recording event-related potentials to these stimuli. Spatial attention and attention to color had independent and largely additive effects on the amplitudes of SSVEPs elicited in early visual areas. In contrast, behavioral false alarms and feature-selective modulation of P3 amplitudes to targets and distractors were limited to the attended location. These results suggest that feature-selective attention produces an early, global facilitation of stimuli having the attended feature throughout the visual field, whereas the discrimination of target events takes place at a later stage of processing that is only applied to stimuli at the attended position.

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