Preparatory effects of distractor suppression: evidence from visual cortex

Jaap Munneke, Dirk J Heslenfeld, W M Usrey, Jan Theeuwes, and George R Mangun (2011). PLoS One, 6(12):e27700.

Spatial selective attention is the mechanism that facilitates the selection of relevant information over irrelevant information in the visual field. The current study investigated whether foreknowledge of the presence or absence of distractors surrounding an impending target stimulus results in preparatory changes in visual cortex. We cued the location of the target and the presence or absence of distractors surrounding the target while changes in blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signals were measured. In line with prior work, we found that top-down spatial attention resulted in an increased contralateral BOLD response,evoked by the cue throughout early visual cortex (areas V1, V2 and V3). In addition, cues indicating distractor presence evoked a substantial increase in the magnitude of the BOLD signal in visual area V3, but not in V2 or V1. This study shows that prior knowledge concerning the presence of a distractor results in enhanced attentional modulation of visual cortex, in visual areas where neuronal receptive fields are large enough to encompass both targets and distractors. We interpret these findings as evidence that top-down attentional control processes include active preparatory suppression mechanisms for irrelevant, distracting information in the visual scene.

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