Selective and divided attention during visual discriminations of shape, color, and speed: functional anatomy by positron emission tomography

J Neurosci. 1991 Aug;11(8):2383-402. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.11-08-02383.1991.


Positron emission tomography (PET) was used to identify the neural systems involved in discriminating the shape, color, and speed of a visual stimulus under conditions of selective and divided attention. Psychophysical evidence indicated that the sensitivity for discriminating subtle stimulus changes in a same-different matching task was higher when subjects selectively attended to one attribute than when they divided attention among the attributes. PET measurements of brain activity indicated that modulations of extrastriate visual activity were primarily produced by task conditions of selective attention. Attention to speed activated a region in the left inferior parietal lobule. Attention to color activated a region in the collateral sulcus and dorsolateral occipital cortex, while attention to shape activated collateral sulcus (similarly to color), fusiform and parahippocampal gyri, and temporal cortex along the superior temporal sulcus. Outside the visual system, selective and divided attention activated nonoverlapping sets of brain regions. Selective conditions activated globus pallidus, caudate nucleus, lateral orbitofrontal cortex, posterior thalamus/colliculus, and insular-premotor regions, while the divided condition activated the anterior cingulate and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The results in the visual system demonstrate that selective attention to different features modulates activity in distinct regions of extrastriate cortex that appear to be specialized for processing the selected feature. The disjoint pattern of activations in extravisual brain regions during selective- and divided-attention conditions also suggests that preceptual judgements involve different neural systems, depending on attentional strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Color Perception / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Psychophysics
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Subtraction Technique
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed
  • Visual Perception / physiology*