Interactions between attention and perceptual grouping in human visual cortex

W Khoe, E Freeman, M G Woldorff, and G R Mangun (2006). Brain Res, 1078(1):101-11.

Freeman et al. demonstrated that detection sensitivity for a low contrast Gabor stimulus improved in the presence of flanking, collinearly oriented grating stimuli, but only when observers attended to them. By recording visual event-related potentials (ERPs) elicited by a Gabor stimulus, we investigated whether this contextual cueing effect involves changes in the short-latency afferent visual signal from V1 that have a stimulus onset latency between 60 and 80 ms and/or longer-latency changes from visual cortex. Under dual-task conditions, the subjects performed contrast discrimination for a central Gabor and an orientation judgment for a pre-specified subset of the flanking Gabors. On random trials, the central Gabor could be collinearly or orthogonally oriented with respect to the attended flankers. Subjects showed improvements in discriminating the contrast of the central grating when it was oriented collinearly with the attended flankers. The ERP difference between attending to collinear versus orthogonal flankers manifested as a positive polarity response at occipital electrodes with a latency of 180-250 ms after stimulus onset. No shorter-latency contextual cueing differences were observed in the ERPs. The ERP latency profile of the contextual cueing effect argues against the hypothesis that short-latency afferent activity from V1 is the stage of processing at which attention can influence neuronal lateral interactions. However, the scalp voltage distribution of the longer-latency contextual cueing effect is similar to the one generated by the early phasic stimulus onset activity from V1. These findings leave open the possibility that V1 is involved in the attentional modulation of lateral interactions but that this has a longer time course, likely being mediated by re-afferent inputs from later stages of the visual pathway.

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