A physiological correlate of the 'spotlight' of visual attention

Nat Neurosci. 1999 Apr;2(4):370-4. doi: 10.1038/7280.


Here we identify a neural correlate of the ability to precisely direct visual attention to locations other than the center of gaze. Human subjects performed a task requiring shifts of visual attention (but not of gaze) from one location to the next within a dense array of targets and distracters while functional MRI was used to map corresponding displacements of neural activation within visual cortex. The cortical topography of the purely attention-driven activity precisely matched the topography of activity evoked by the cued targets when presented in isolation. Such retinotopic mapping of attention-related activation was found in primary visual cortex, as well as in dorsomedial and ventral occipital visual areas previously implicated in processing the attended target features. These results identify a physiological basis for the effects of spatially directed visual attention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Color Perception / physiology
  • Dominance, Cerebral
  • Female
  • Field Dependence-Independence
  • Form Perception / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Occipital Lobe / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Fields
  • Visual Perception / physiology*