Background: Neuroimaging studies of attention often focus on interactions between stimulus representations and top-down selection mechanisms in visual cortex. Less is known about the neural representation of distractor stimuli beyond visual areas, and the interactions between stimuli in linguistic processing areas. In the present study, participants viewed simultaneously presented line drawings at peripheral locations, while in the MRI scanner. The names of the objects depicted in these pictures were either phonologically related (i.e. shared the same consonant-vowel onset construction), or unrelated. Attention was directed either at the linguistic properties of one of these pictures, or at the fixation point (i.e. away from the pictures).
Results: Phonological representations of unattended pictures could be detected in the posterior superior temporal gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus, and the insula.
Conclusion: Under some circumstances, the name of ignored distractor pictures is retrieved by linguistic areas. This implies that selective attention to a specific location does not completely filter out the representations of distractor stimuli at early perceptual stages.