The topography of visuospatial attention as revealed by a novel visual field mapping technique

J Cogn Neurosci. 2009 Jul;21(7):1447-60. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2009.21005.


Previously, we and others have shown that attention can enhance visual processing in a spatially specific manner that is retinotopically mapped in the occipital cortex. However, it is difficult to appreciate the functional significance of the spatial pattern of cortical activation just by examining the brain maps. In this study, we visualize the neural representation of the "spotlight" of attention using a back-projection of attention-related brain activation onto a diagram of the visual field. In the two main experiments, we examine the topography of attentional activation in the occipital and parietal cortices. In retinotopic areas, attentional enhancement is strongest at the locations of the attended target, but also spreads to nearby locations and even weakly to restricted locations in the opposite visual field. The dispersion of attentional effects around an attended site increases with the eccentricity of the target in a manner that roughly corresponds to a constant area of spread within the cortex. When averaged across multiple observers, these patterns appear consistent with a gradient model of spatial attention. However, individual observers exhibit complex variations that are unique but reproducible. Overall, these results suggest that the topography of visual attention for each individual is composed of a common theme plus a personal variation that may reflect their own unique "attentional style."

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cerebral Cortex / blood supply
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Fields / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / blood supply
  • Visual Pathways / physiology


  • Oxygen