Direct neurophysiological evidence for spatial suppression surrounding the focus of attention in vision

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Jan 24;103(4):1053-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0507746103. Epub 2006 Jan 12.


The spatial focus of attention has traditionally been envisioned as a simple spatial gradient of enhanced activity that falls off monotonically with increasing distance. Here, we show with high-density magnetoencephalographic recordings in human observers that the focus of attention is not a simple monotonic gradient but instead contains an excitatory peak surrounded by a narrow inhibitory region. To demonstrate this center-surround profile, we asked subjects to focus attention onto a color pop-out target and then presented probe stimuli at various distances from the target. We observed that the electromagnetic response to the probe was enhanced when the probe was presented at the location of the target, but the probe response was suppressed in a narrow zone surrounding the target and then recovered at more distant locations. Withdrawing attention from the pop-out target by engaging observers in a demanding foveal task eliminated this pattern, confirming a truly attention-driven effect. These results indicate that neural enhancement and suppression coexist in a spatially structured manner that is optimal to attenuate the most deleterious noise during visual object identification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Magnetoencephalography / methods*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Time Factors
  • Vision, Ocular*
  • Visual Perception*