Determinants and mechanisms of attentional modulation of neural processing

Front Biosci. 2001 May 1:6:D672-84. doi: 10.2741/schroed.


This review contrasts the most-studied variety of attention, visuospatial attention, with several types of nonspatial visual attention. We: 1) discuss the manner in which spatial and nonspatial varieties of attention are experimentally defined, and the ecological validity of the paradigms in which they are studied, 2) review and compare differing effects of spatial and nonspatial attention on neural processing, 3) discuss the manner in which attention operates within the framework of an anatomical visual hierarchy, as well as 4) how attention relates to the temporal dynamics of visual processing, 5) describe cellular circuits and physiological processes that appear to be involved in attention effects, 6) discuss the relationship of attentional physiology to the perceptual and cognitive effects of attention, and 7) consider the strengths and limitations of several current models of selective attention. Throughout, we attempt to integrate the findings of monkey and human studies whenever possible. We have three main conclusions. First, two models, the Neural Specificity Model of Harter and colleagues and the Feature Similarity Gain Model of Treue and colleagues best incorporate findings in relation to both spatial and nonspatial varieties of attention. Significantly, these models explicitly note that the specific neuronal components used in attentional modulation of processing are flexible and determined by task demands. Second, current evidence also provides strong bases for deriving testable hypotheses about the specific brain mechanisms utilized by attention. Cellular processes, brain circuits and neurotransmitter components can and should be incorporated into our models of attention. Finally, it is increasingly evident that we can and should analyze temporal patterns of attentional modulation, both within and across brain areas. These patterns provide critical information on the dynamics of attention.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology