Positron emission tomographic (PET) studies of human attention have begun to dissect isolable components of this complex higher brain function, including a midline attentional system in a region of the anterior cingulate cortex. The right hemisphere may play a special part in human attention; neglect, an important phenomenon associated with damage to attentional systems, is more severe, extensive and long-lasting after lesions to the right hemisphere. Here we use PET measurements of brain blood flow in healthy subjects to identify changes in regional brain activity during simple visual and somatosensory tasks of sustained attention or vigilance. We find localized increases in blood flow in the prefrontal and superior parietal cortex primarily in the right hemisphere, regardless of the modality or laterality of sensory input. The anterior cingulate was not activated during either task. These data localize the vigilance aspects of normal human attention to sensory stimuli, thereby clarifying the biology underlying asymmetries of attention to such stimuli that have been reported in clinical lesions.