Feature-based attentional modulation increases with stimulus separation in divided-attention tasks

Department of Psychology, Laurentian University, Ontario, Canada.
Spatial Vision (Impact Factor: 1.04). 12/2009; 22(6):529-53. DOI: 10.1163/156856809789822970
Source: PubMed


Attention modifies our visual experience by selecting certain aspects of a scene for further processing. It is therefore important to understand factors that govern the deployment of selective attention over the visual field. Both location and feature-specific mechanisms of attention have been identified and their modulatory effects can interact at a neural level (Treue and Martinez-Trujillo, 1999). The effects of spatial parameters on feature-based attentional modulation were examined for the feature dimensions of orientation, motion and color using three divided-attention tasks. Subjects performed concurrent discriminations of two briefly presented targets (Gabor patches) to the left and right of a central fixation point at eccentricities of +/-2.5 degrees , 5 degrees , 10 degrees and 15 degrees in the horizontal plane. Gabors were size-scaled to maintain consistent single-task performance across eccentricities. For all feature dimensions, the data show a linear increase in the attentional effects with target separation. In a control experiment, Gabors were presented on an isoeccentric viewing arc at 10 degrees and 15 degrees at the closest spatial separation (+/-2.5 degrees ) of the main experiment. Under these conditions, the effects of feature-based attentional effects were largely eliminated. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that feature-based attention prioritizes the processing of attended features. Feature-based attentional mechanisms may have helped direct the attentional focus to the appropriate target locations at greater separations, whereas similar assistance may not have been necessary at closer target spacings. The results of the present study specify conditions under which dual-task performance benefits from sharing similar target features and may therefore help elucidate the processes by which feature-based attention operates.

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    • "One possibility is that attention to such features is only be possible through learning and longer-term plasticity (Wolfe et al., 2004), and all forms of attention may require topographic organization. Perhaps because attention to topographically organized features is more natural, most neurophysiological studies have focused on attention to topologically organized features, most notably motion direction in the middle temporal area (Albright, 1984; Martinez-Trujillo and Treue, 2004; Sally et al., 2009). Over blocks of behavioral trials, the attentional modulation of either behavior or neuronal responses depends largely on the details of the behavioral paradigm chosen by experimenters. "
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    ABSTRACT: Visual attention affects both perception and neuronal responses. Whether the same neuronal mechanisms mediate spatial attention, which improves perception of attended locations, and nonspatial forms of attention has been a subject of considerable debate. Spatial and feature attention have similar effects on individual neurons. Because visual cortex is retinotopically organized, however, spatial attention can comodulate local neuronal populations, whereas feature attention generally requires more selective modulation. We compared the effects of feature and spatial attention on local and spatially separated populations by recording simultaneously from dozens of neurons in both hemispheres of V4. Feature and spatial attention affect the activity of local populations similarly, modulating both firing rates and correlations between pairs of nearby neurons. However, whereas spatial attention appears to act on local populations, feature attention is coordinated across hemispheres. Our results are consistent with a unified attentional mechanism that can modulate the responses of arbitrary subgroups of neurons.
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