Spatial attention changes excitability of human visual cortex to direct stimulation

Curr Biol. 2007 Jan 23;17(2):134-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2006.11.063.


Conscious perception depends not only on sensory input, but also on attention [1, 2]. Recent studies in monkeys [3-6] and humans [7-12] suggest that influences of spatial attention on visual awareness may reflect top-down influences on excitability of visual cortex. Here we tested this specifically, by providing direct input into human visual cortex via cortical transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to produce illusory visual percepts, called phosphenes. We found that a lower TMS intensity was needed to elicit a conscious phosphene when its apparent spatial location was attended, rather than unattended. Our results indicate that spatial attention can enhance visual-cortex excitability, and visual awareness, even when sensory signals from the eye via the thalamic pathway are bypassed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Phosphenes / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*