[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Visual attention can be attracted automatically by salient simple features, but whether and how nonsalient complex stimuli
such as shapes may capture attention in humans remains unclear. Here, we present strong electrophysiological evidence that
a nonsalient shape presented among similar shapes can provoke a robust and persistent capture of attention as a consequence
of extensive training in visual search (VS) for that shape. Strikingly, this attentional capture that followed perceptual
learning (PL) was evident even when the trained shape was task-irrelevant, was presented outside the focus of top-down spatial
attention, and was undetected by the observer. Moreover, this attentional capture persisted for at least 3–5 months after
training had been terminated. This involuntary capture of attention was indexed by electrophysiological recordings of the
N2pc component of the event-related brain potential, which was localized to ventral extrastriate visual cortex, and was highly
predictive of stimulus-specific improvement in VS ability following PL. These findings provide the first evidence that nonsalient
shapes can capture visual attention automatically following PL and challenge the prominent view that detection of feature
conjunctions requires top-down focal attention.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Recent findings suggest that a salient, irrelevant sound attracts attention to its location involuntarily and facilitates processing of a colocalized visual event [McDonald, J. J., Störmer, V. S., Martinez, A., Feng, W. F., & Hillyard, S. A. Salient sounds activate human visual cortex automatically. Journal of Neuroscience, 33, 9194-9201, 2013; McDonald, J. J., Whitman, J. C., Störmer, V. S., & Hillyard, S. A. Involuntary cross-modal spatial attention influences visual perception. In G. R. Mangun (Ed.), Cognitive electrophysiology of attention (pp. 82-94). Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2013]. Associated with this cross-modal facilitation is a sound-evoked slow potential over the contralateral visual cortex termed the auditory-evoked contralateral occipital positivity (ACOP). Here, we further tested the hypothesis that a salient sound captures visual attention involuntarily by examining sound-evoked modulations of the occipital alpha rhythm, which have been strongly associated with visual attention. In two purely auditory experiments, lateralized irrelevant sounds triggered a bilateral desynchronization of occipital alpha-band activity (10-14 Hz) that was more pronounced in the hemisphere contralateral to the sound's location. The timing of the contralateral alpha-band desynchronization overlapped with that of the ACOP (∼240-400 msec), and both measures of neural activity were estimated to arise from neural generators in the ventral-occipital cortex. The magnitude of the lateralized alpha desynchronization was correlated with ACOP amplitude on a trial-by-trial basis and between participants, suggesting that they arise from or are dependent on a common neural mechanism. These results support the hypothesis that the sound-induced alpha desynchronization and ACOP both reflect the involuntary cross-modal orienting of spatial attention to the sound's location.
No preview · Article · Dec 2015 · Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Paying attention to visual stimuli is typically accompanied by event-related desynchronizations (ERD) of ongoing alpha (7–14 Hz) activity in visual cortex. The present study used time-frequency based analyses to investigate the role of impaired alpha ERD in visual processing deficits in schizophrenia (Sz). Subjects viewed sinusoidal gratings of high (HSF) and low (LSF) spatial frequency (SF) designed to test functioning of the parvo-vs. magnocellular pathways, respectively. Patients with Sz and healthy controls paid attention selectively to either the LSF or HSF gratings which were presented in random order. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded to all stimuli. As in our previous study, it was found that Sz patients were selectively impaired at detecting LSF target stimuli and that ERP amplitudes to LSF stimuli were diminished, both for the early sensory-evoked components and for the attend minus unattend difference component (the Selection Negativity), which is generally regarded as a specific index of feature-selective attention. In the time-frequency domain, the differential ERP deficits to LSF stimuli were echoed in a virtually absent theta-band phase locked response to both unattended and attended LSF stimuli (along with relatively intact theta-band activity for HSF stimuli). In contrast to the theta-band evoked responses which were tightly stimulus locked, stimulus-induced desynchronizations of ongoing alpha activity were not tightly stimulus locked and were apparent only in induced power analyses. Sz patients were significantly impaired in the attention-related modulation of ongoing alpha activity for both HSF and LSF stimuli. These deficits correlated with patients' behavioral deficits in visual information processing as well as with visually based neurocognitive deficits. These findings suggest an additional, pathway-independent, mechanism by which deficits in early visual processing contribute to overall cognitive impairment in Sz.
Full-text · Article · Aug 2015 · Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Experiments that study feature-based attention have often examined situations in which selection is based on a single feature (e. g., the color red). However, in more complex situations relevant stimuli may not be set apart from other stimuli by a single defining property but by a specific combination of features. Here, we examined sustained attentional selection of stimuli defined by conjunctions of color and orientation. Humanobservers attended to one out of four concurrently presented superimposed fields of randomly moving horizontal or vertical bars of red or blue color to detect brief intervals of coherent motion. Selective stimulus processing in early visual cortex was assessed by recordings of steady-state visual evoked potentials (SSVEPs) elicited by each of the flickering fields of stimuli. We directly contrasted attentional selection of single features and feature conjunctions and found that SSVEP amplitudes on conditions in which selection was based on a single feature only (color or orientation) exactly predicted the magnitude of attentional enhancement of SSVEPs when attending to a conjunction of both features. Furthermore, enhanced SSVEP amplitudes elicited by attended stimuli were accompanied by equivalent reductions of SSVEP amplitudes elicited by unattended stimuli in all cases. We conclude that attentional selection of a feature-conjunction stimulus is accomplished by the parallel and independent facilitation of its constituent feature dimensions in early visual cortex.
No preview · Article · Jul 2015 · The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: To isolate neural correlates of conscious perception (NCCs), a standard approach has been to contrast neural activity elicited by identical stimuli of which subjects are aware vs. unaware. Because conscious experience is private, determining whether a stimulus was consciously perceived requires subjective report: e.g., button-presses indicating detection, visibility ratings, verbal reports, etc. This reporting requirement introduces a methodological confound when attempting to isolate NCCs: The neural processes responsible for accessing and reporting one's percept are difficult to distinguish from those underlying the conscious percept itself. Here, we review recent attempts to circumvent this issue via a modified inattentional blindness paradigm (Pitts et al., 2012) and present new data from a backward masking experiment in which task-relevance and visual awareness were manipulated in a 2 × 2 crossed design. In agreement with our previous inattentional blindness results, stimuli that were consciously perceived yet not immediately accessed for report (aware, task-irrelevant condition) elicited a mid-latency posterior ERP negativity (~200-240 ms), while stimuli that were accessed for report (aware, task-relevant condition) elicited additional components including a robust P3b (~380-480 ms) subsequent to the mid-latency negativity. Overall, these results suggest that some of the NCCs identified in previous studies may be more closely linked with accessing and maintaining perceptual information for reporting purposes than with encoding the conscious percept itself. An open question is whether the remaining NCC candidate (the ERP negativity at 200-240 ms) reflects visual awareness or object-based attention.
Full-text · Article · Oct 2014 · Frontiers in Psychology
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Previous research on attentional selection of features has yielded seemingly contradictory results: many experiments have found "global" facilitation of attended features across the entire visual field, whereas classic event related potential (ERP) studies reported an enhancement of attended features at the attended location only. To test the hypothesis that these conflicting results can be explained by temporal stimulus differences, we compared the time-course of feature-selective attention inside and outside the spatial focus of attention. We presented fields of randomly moving purple dots on either side of fixation. Participants were audio-visually cued to attend to either red or blue dots on either the left or right side in order to detect brief coherent motion targets. After a delay, which allowed participants sufficient time to shift attention to the cued location, the purple dots on both sides changed color simultaneously so that half of them became blue and the other half red. Each of these four dot populations flickered at a different frequency, thereby eliciting distinguishable steady-state visual evoked potentials (SSVEPs). This allowed us to concurrently measure the time-course of feature-selective attentional enhancement of stimulus processing in visual cortex after onset of the attended feature on both the attended and the unattended side. The onset of feature-selective attention on the attended side occurred over 100 ms earlier than on the unattended side. The finding that feature-selective attention is not spatially global from the outset, but that its effect spreads to unattended locations with a temporal delay resolves previous contradictions between studies that found global selection of features and studies that failed to find such global selection because they used briefly flashed stimuli. We speculate that the observed delay might be caused by the time needed to coordinate attentional control signals between hemispheres, although the exact mechanisms are still unknown.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2014
No preview · Article · Aug 2014 · Journal of Vision
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: A primary goal in cognitive neuroscience is to identify neural correlates of conscious perception (NCC). By contrasting conditions in which subjects are aware versus unaware of identical visual stimuli, a number of candidate NCCs have emerged, among them induced gamma band activity in the EEG and the P3 event-related potential. In most previous studies, however, the critical stimuli were always directly relevant to the subjects' task, such that aware versus unaware contrasts may well have included differences in post-perceptual processing in addition to differences in conscious perception per se. Here, in a series of EEG experiments, visual awareness and task relevance were manipulated independently. Induced gamma activity and the P3 were absent for task-irrelevant stimuli regardless of whether subjects were aware of such stimuli. For task-relevant stimuli, gamma and the P3 were robust and dissociable, indicating that each reflects distinct post-perceptual processes necessary for carrying-out the task but not for consciously perceiving the stimuli. Overall, this pattern of results challenges a number of previous proposals linking gamma band activity and the P3 to conscious perception.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: A recent study in humans (McDonald et al., 2013) found that peripheral, task-irrelevant sounds activated contralateral visual cortex automatically as revealed by an auditory-evoked contralateral occipital positivity (ACOP) recorded from the scalp. The present study investigated the functional significance of this cross-modal activation of visual cortex, in particular whether the sound-evoked ACOP is predictive of improved perceptual processing of a subsequent visual target. A trial-by-trial analysis showed that the ACOP amplitude was markedly larger preceding correct than incorrect pattern discriminations of visual targets that were colocalized with the preceding sound. Dipole modeling of the scalp topography of the ACOP localized its neural generators to the ventrolateral extrastriate visual cortex. These results provide direct evidence that the cross-modal activation of contralateral visual cortex by a spatially nonpredictive but salient sound facilitates the discriminative processing of a subsequent visual target event at the location of the sound. Recordings of event-related potentials to the targets support the hypothesis that the ACOP is a neural consequence of the automatic orienting of visual attention to the location of the sound.
Full-text · Article · Jul 2014 · The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: A growing body of research suggests that the predictive power of working memory (WM) capacity for measures of intellectual aptitude is due to the ability to control attention and select relevant information. Crucially, attentional mechanisms implicated in controlling access to WM are assumed to be domain-general, yet reports of enhanced attentional abilities in individuals with larger WM capacities are primarily within the visual domain. Here, we directly test the link between WM capacity and early attentional gating across sensory domains, hypothesizing that measures of visual WM capacity should predict an individual's capacity to allocate auditory selective attention. To address this question, auditory ERPs were recorded in a linguistic dichotic listening task, and individual differences in ERP modulations by attention were correlated with estimates of WM capacity obtained in a separate visual change detection task. Auditory selective attention enhanced ERP amplitudes at an early latency (ca. 70-90 msec), with larger P1 components elicited by linguistic probes embedded in an attended narrative. Moreover, this effect was associated with greater individual estimates of visual WM capacity. These findings support the view that domain-general attentional control mechanisms underlie the wide variation of WM capacity across individuals.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: This study investigated the effects of attentional load on neural responses to attended and irrelevant visual stimuli by recording high-density event-related potentials (ERPs) from the scalp in normal adult subjects. Peripheral (upper and lower visual field) and central stimuli were presented in random order at a rapid rate while subjects responded to targets among the central stimuli. Color detection and color-orientation conjunction search tasks were used as the low- and high-load tasks, respectively. Behavioral results showed significant load effects on both accuracy and reaction time for target detections. ERP results revealed no significant load effect on the initial C1 component (60-100 ms) evoked by either central-relevant or peripheral-irrelevant stimuli. Source analysis with dipole modeling confirmed previous reports that the C1 includes the initial evoked response in primary visual cortex. Source analyses indicated that high attentional load enhanced the early (70-140 ms) neural response to central-relevant stimuli in ventral-lateral extrastriate cortex, whereas load effects on peripheral-irrelevant stimulus processing started at 110 ms and were localized to more dorsal and anterior extrastriate cortical areas. These results provide evidence that the earliest stages of visual cortical processing are not modified by attentional load and show that attentional load affects the processing of task relevant and irrelevant stimuli in different ways.
Full-text · Article · Jul 2014 · Human Brain Mapping
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: An essential task of our perceptual systems is to bind together the distinctive features of single objects and events into unitary percepts, even when those features are registered in different sensory modalities. In cases where auditory and visual inputs are spatially incongruent, they may still be perceived as belonging to a single event at the location of the visual stimulus -- a phenomenon known as the 'ventriloquist illusion'. The present study examined how audio-visual temporal congruence influences the ventriloquist illusion and characterized its neural underpinnings with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Behaviorally, the ventriloquist illusion was reduced for asynchronous versus synchronous audio-visual stimuli, in accordance with previous reports. Neural activity patterns associated with the ventriloquist effect were consistently observed in the planum temporale (PT), with a reduction in illusion-related fMRI-signals ipsilateral to visual stimulation for central sounds perceived peripherally and a contralateral increase in illusion-related fMRI-signals for peripheral sounds perceived centrally. Moreover, it was found that separate but adjacent regions within the PT were preferentially activated for ventriloquist illusions produced by synchronous and asynchronous audio-visual stimulation. We conclude that the left-right balance of neural activity in the PT represents the neural code that underlies the ventriloquist illusion, with greater activity in the cerebral hemisphere contralateral to the direction of the perceived shift of sound location.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Spatial frequency (SF) selection has long been recognized to play a role in global and local processing, though the nature of the relationship between SF processing and global/local perception is debated. Previous studies have shown that attention to relatively lower SFs facilitates global perception, and that attention to relatively higher SFs facilitates local perception. Here we recorded event-related brain potentials (ERPs) to investigate whether processing of low versus high SFs is modulated automatically during global and local perception, and to examine the time course of any such effects. Participants compared bilaterally presented hierarchical letter stimuli and attended to either the global or local levels. Irrelevant SF grating probes flashed at the center of the display 200 ms after the onset of the hierarchical letter stimuli could either be low or high in SF. It was found that ERPs elicited by the SF grating probes differed as a function of attended level (global versus local). ERPs elicited by low SF grating probes were more positive in the interval 196-236 ms during global than local attention, and this difference was greater over the right occipital scalp. In contrast, ERPs elicited by the high SF gratings were more positive in the interval 250-290 ms during local than global attention, and this difference was bilaterally distributed over the occipital scalp. These results indicate that directing attention to global versus local levels of a hierarchical display facilitates automatic perceptual processing of low versus high SFs, respectively, and this facilitation is not limited to the locations occupied by the hierarchical display. The relatively long latency of these attention-related ERP modulations suggests that initial (early) SF processing is not affected by attention to hierarchical level, lending support to theories positing a higher level mechanism to underlie the relationship between SF processing and global versus local perception.
Full-text · Article · Apr 2014 · Frontiers in Psychology
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Object-based theories of attention propose that the selection of an object's feature leads to the rapid selection of all other constituent features, even those that are task irrelevant. We used magnetoencephalographic recordings to examine the timing and sequencing of neural activity patterns in feature-specific cortical areas as human subjects performed an object-based attention task. Subjects attended to one of two superimposed moving dot arrays that were perceived as transparent surfaces on the basis either of color or speed of motion. When surface motion was attended, the magnetoencephalographic waveforms showed enhanced activity in the motion-specific cortical area starting at ∼150 ms after motion onset, followed after ∼60 ms by enhanced activity in the color-specific area. When surface color was attended, this temporal sequence was reversed. This rapid sequential activation of the relevant and irrelevant feature modules provides a neural basis for the binding of an object's features into a unitary perceptual experience.
No preview · Article · Feb 2014 · Nature Neuroscience
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In many common situations such as driving an automobile it is advantageous to attend concurrently to events at different locations (e.g., the car in front, the pedestrian to the side). While spatial attention can be divided effectively between separate locations, studies investigating attention to nonspatial features have often reported a "global effect", whereby items having the attended feature may be preferentially processed throughout the entire visual field. These findings suggest that spatial and feature-based attention may at times act in direct opposition: spatially divided foci of attention cannot be truly independent if feature attention is spatially global and thereby affects all foci equally. In two experiments, human observers attended concurrently to one of two overlapping fields of dots of different colors presented in both the left and right visual fields. When the same color or two different colors were attended on the two sides, deviant targets were detected accurately, and visual-cortical potentials elicited by attended dots were enhanced. However, when the attended color on one side matched the ignored color on the opposite side, attentional modulation of cortical potentials was abolished. This loss of feature selectivity could be attributed to enhanced processing of unattended items that shared the color of the attended items in the opposite field. Thus, while it is possible to attend to two different colors at the same time, this ability is fundamentally constrained by spatially global feature enhancement in early visual-cortical areas, which is obligatory and persists even when it explicitly conflicts with task demands.
Preview · Article · Nov 2013 · The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience