Transient neural activity in human parietal cortex during spatial attention shifts

Nat Neurosci. 2002 Oct;5(10):995-1002. doi: 10.1038/nn921.


Observers viewing a complex visual scene selectively attend to relevant locations or objects and ignore irrelevant ones. Selective attention to an object enhances its neural representation in extrastriate cortex, compared with those of unattended objects, via top-down attentional control signals. The posterior parietal cortex is centrally involved in this control of spatial attention. We examined brain activity during attention shifts using rapid, event-related fMRI of human observers as they covertly shifted attention between two peripheral spatial locations. Activation in extrastriate cortex increased after a shift of attention to the contralateral visual field and remained high during sustained contralateral attention. The time course of activity was substantially different in posterior parietal cortex, where transient increases in activation accompanied shifts of attention in either direction. This result suggests that activation of the parietal cortex is associated with a discrete signal to shift spatial attention, and is not the source of a signal to continuously maintain the current attentive state.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology*