Figure-ground mechanisms provide structure for selective attention

Nat Neurosci. 2007 Nov;10(11):1492-9. doi: 10.1038/nn1989. Epub 2007 Oct 7.


Attention depends on figure-ground organization: figures draw attention, whereas shapes of the ground tend to be ignored. Recent research has revealed mechanisms for figure-ground organization in the visual cortex, but how these mechanisms relate to the attention process remains unclear. Here we show that the influences of figure-ground organization and volitional (top-down) attention converge in single neurons of area V2 in Macaca mulatta. Although we found assignment of border ownership for attended and for ignored figures, attentional modulation was stronger when the attended figure was located on the neuron's preferred side of border ownership. When the border between two overlapping figures was placed in the receptive field, responses depended on the side of attention, and enhancement was generally found on the neuron's preferred side of border ownership. This correlation suggests that the neural network that creates figure-ground organization also provides the interface for the top-down selection process.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Depth Perception / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Female
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Cortex / cytology*