Visual attention has been classically described as a spotlight that enhances the processing of a behaviorally relevant object. However, in many situations, humans and animals must simultaneously attend to several relevant objects separated by distracters. To account for this ability, various models of attention have been proposed including splitting of the attentional spotlight into multiple foci, zooming of the spotlight over a region of space, and switching of the spotlight among objects. We investigated this controversial issue by recording neuronal activity in visual area MT of two macaques while they attended to two translating objects that circumvented a third distracter object located inside the neurons' receptive field. We found that when the attended objects passed through or nearby the receptive field, neuronal responses to the distracter were either decreased or remained unaltered. These results demonstrate that attention can split into multiple spotlights corresponding to relevant objects while filtering out interspersed distracters.
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