J B Hopfinger and G R Mangun (2001). Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci, 1(1):56-65.
Previously, we demonstrated that reflexive attention facilitates early visual processing during form discrimination (Hopfinger & Mangun, 1998). In the present study, we tested whether reflexive facilitation of early visual processing will be generated when task load is low (simple luminance detection). Target stimuli that were preceded at short cue-to-target intervals by irrelevant visual events (cues) elicited an enhanced sensory (P1) event-related potential (ERP) component as well as an enhanced longer latency, cognitive ERP component (P300). At long cue-to-target intervals, facilitation in these ERP components was no longer observed, and, although inhibition of return (IOR) was observed in reaction times, the ERPs did not show an inhibition of sensory processing. These results provide converging evidence that reflexive attention transiently facilitates neural processing of visual inputs at multiple stages of analysis (i.e., sensory processing and higher order cognitive processing) but question the view that IOR is manifest at the earliest visual cortical stages of analysis.