Neural mechanisms of top-down control during spatial and feature attention

B Giesbrecht, M G Woldorff, A W Song, and G R Mangun (2003). Neuroimage, 19(3):496-512.

Theories of visual selective attention posit that both spatial location and nonspatial stimulus features (e.g., color) are elementary dimensions on which top-down attentional control mechanisms can selectively influence visual processing. Neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that regions of superior frontal and parietal cortex are critically involved in the control of visual-spatial attention. This frontoparietal control network has also been found to be activated when attention is oriented to nonspatial stimulus features (e.g., motion). To test the generality of the frontoparietal network in attentional control, we directly compared spatial and nonspatial attention in a cuing paradigm. Event-related fMRI methods permitted the isolation of attentional control activity during orienting to a location or to a nonspatial stimulus feature (color). Portions of the frontoparietal network were commonly activated to the spatial and nonspatial cues. However, direct statistical comparisons of cue-related activity revealed subregions of the frontoparietal network that were significantly more active during spatial than nonspatial orienting when all other stimulus, task, and attentional factors were equated. No regions of the frontal-parietal network were more active for nonspatial cues in comparison to spatial cues. These findings support models suggesting that subregions of the frontal-parietal network are highly specific for controlling spatial selective attention.

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