All cortical and thalamic levels of sensory processing are subject to powerful top-down influences, the shaping of lower-level processes by more complex information. New findings on the diversity of top-down interactions show that cortical areas function as adaptive processors, being subject to attention, expectation, and perceptual task. Brain states are determined by the interactions between multiple cortical areas and the modulation of intrinsic circuits by feedback connections. In perceptual learning, both the encoding and recall of learned information involves a selection of the appropriate inputs that convey information about the stimulus being discriminated. Disruption of this interaction may lead to behavioral disorders, including schizophrenia.