Cortical mechanisms for shifting and holding visuospatial attention

Cereb Cortex. 2008 Jan;18(1):114-25. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhm036. Epub 2007 Apr 13.


Access to visual awareness is often determined by covert, voluntary deployments of visual attention. Voluntary orienting without eye movements requires decoupling attention from the locus of fixation, a shift to the desired location, and maintenance of attention at that location. We used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging to dissociate these components while observers shifted attention among 3 streams of letters and digits, one located at fixation and 2 in the periphery. Compared with holding attention at the current location, shifting attention between the peripheral locations was associated with transient increases in neural activity in the superior parietal lobule (SPL) and frontal eye fields (FEF), as in previous studies. The supplementary eye fields and separate portions of SPL and FEF were more active for decoupling attention from fixation than for shifting attention to a new location. Large segments of precentral sulcus (PreCS) and posterior parietal cortex (PPC) were more active when attention was maintained in the periphery than when it was maintained at fixation. We conclude that distinct subcomponents of the dorsal frontoparietal network initiate redeployments of covert attention to new locations and disengage attention from fixation, while sustained activity in lateral regions of PPC and PreCS represents sustained states of peripheral attention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*