Sustained visual-spatial attention produces costs and benefits in response time and evoked neural activity

G R Mangun and L A Buck (1998). Neuropsychologia, 36(3):189-200.

This study investigated the simple reaction time (RT) and event-related potential (ERP) correlates of biasing attention towards a location in the visual field. RTs and ERPs were recorded to stimuli flashed randomly and with equal probability to the left and right visual hemifields in the three blocked, covert attention conditions: (i) attention divided equally to left and right hemifield locations;(ii) attention biased towards the left location; or (iii) attention biased towards the right location. Attention was biased towards left or right by instructions to the subjects, and responses were required to all stimuli. Relative to the divided attention condition, RTs were significantly faster for targets occurring where more attention was allocated (benefits), and slower to targets where less attention was allocated (costs). The early P1 (100-140 msec) component over the lateral occipital scalp regions showed attentional benefits. There were no amplitude modulations of the occipital N1 (125-180 msec) component with attention. Between 200 and 500 msec latency, a late positive deflection (LPD) showed both attentional costs and benefits. The behavioral findings show that when sufficiently induced to bias attention, human observers demonstrate RT benefits as well as costs. The corresponding P1 benefits suggest that the RT benefits of spatial attention may arise as the result of modulations of visual information processing in the extrastriate visual cortex.

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