Electrophysiological signs of sustained and transient attention to spatial locations

H J Heinze and G R Mangun (1995). Neuropsychologia, 33(7):889-908.

Event-related potentials were elicited by bilateral and unilateral stimulus arrays flashed in rapid sequence in order to investigate both focused attention and attentional orienting. Subjects attended selectively to the stimuli on one side of the bilateral arrays and were required to discriminate infrequent target stimuli on either the attended side (no switch of attentional focus) or unattended side of the array (switch of attentional focus). The ERPs to the bilateral stimuli elicited an occipital P1 component that was larger in amplitude over scalp regions contralateral to the attended visual half-field. The ERPs to the unilateral stimuli on the attended side also showed an amplitude enhancement of early P1 components, followed by a positive shift that lasted until 200 msec latency over the contralateral occipital scalp. No enhancement of the N1 component was observed to attended-side stimuli. These patterns were not different for conditions requiring or not requiring a spatial switch of the attentional focus. In conjunction with ERP signs of focused spatial attention, significant differences in discrimination performance (d’) were obtained for the attended vs unattended-side targets; no changes in measures of criterion (beta) were obtained. These data support the idea that the early occipital P1 attention effect represents a facilitation of visual inputs that occur at attended locations in the visual field.

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