Attention enhances adaptability: evidence from motion adaptation experiments

Vision Res. 2004 Dec;44(26):3035-44. doi: 10.1016/j.visres.2004.07.020.


Several previous psychophysical and neurophysiological studies have investigated the separate effects of attention and adaptation on visual processing. Here, we investigated the combined effects of attention and adaptation on motion processing by measuring the effects of spatial attention on the duration of the motion after-effect (MAE) over a wide range of stimulus contrasts. MAE duration was compared between two conditions: full-attention, subjects were required to pay attention to the adapting motion stimulus, and poor-attention, subjects performed a difficult vowel detection task at the center of gaze and ignored the adapting motion stimulus. Attention was found to increase the MAE duration by a factor of 1.4, which was approximately constant over a wide range of stimulus contrasts (3.22-80.6%). Notably, this included contrasts for which the MAE duration had reached its asymptotic value. We show that a quantitative model based on known properties of directionally selective MT neurons can explain these results by assuming that attention enhances the effects of adaptation, a phenomenon we refer to as "adaptation gain". Specifically, attending to an adapting motion stimulus shifts the semi-saturation point (C50) of the underlying contrast response function (CRF) of motion detectors roughly 1.4-fold more to the right than does ignoring that same stimulus. By enhancing the effects of adaptation in this fashion, attention is predicted to enhance the adaptability of the visual motion system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Figural Aftereffect / physiology
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Models, Psychological
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychophysics