Dorsal and ventral attention systems: distinct neural circuits but collaborative roles

Neuroscientist. 2014 Apr;20(2):150-9. doi: 10.1177/1073858413494269. Epub 2013 Jul 8.


The idea of two separate attention networks in the human brain for the voluntary deployment of attention and the reorientation to unexpected events, respectively, has inspired an enormous amount of research over the past years. In this review, we will reconcile these theoretical ideas on the dorsal and ventral attentional system with recent empirical findings from human neuroimaging experiments and studies in stroke patients. We will highlight how novel methods-such as the analysis of effective connectivity or the combination of neurostimulation with functional magnetic resonance imaging-have contributed to our understanding of the functionality and interaction of the two systems. We conclude that neither of the two networks controls attentional processes in isolation and that the flexible interaction between both systems enables the dynamic control of attention in relation to top-down goals and bottom-up sensory stimulation. We discuss which brain regions potentially govern this interaction according to current task demands.

Keywords: attentional networks; intraparietal sulcus; spatial attention; spatial neglect; temporoparietal junction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology