Top-down versus bottom-up attentional control: a failed theoretical dichotomy

Trends Cogn Sci. 2012 Aug;16(8):437-43. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2012.06.010. Epub 2012 Jul 12.


Prominent models of attentional control assert a dichotomy between top-down and bottom-up control, with the former determined by current selection goals and the latter determined by physical salience. This theoretical dichotomy, however, fails to explain a growing number of cases in which neither current goals nor physical salience can account for strong selection biases. For example, equally salient stimuli associated with reward can capture attention, even when this contradicts current selection goals. Thus, although 'top-down' sources of bias are sometimes defined as those that are not due to physical salience, this conception conflates distinct--and sometimes contradictory--sources of selection bias. We describe an alternative framework, in which past selection history is integrated with current goals and physical salience to shape an integrated priority map.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychological Theory*