Bottom-up and top-down attention: different processes and overlapping neural systems

Neuroscientist. 2014 Oct;20(5):509-21. doi: 10.1177/1073858413514136. Epub 2013 Dec 20.


The brain is limited in its capacity to process all sensory stimuli present in the physical world at any point in time and relies instead on the cognitive process of attention to focus neural resources according to the contingencies of the moment. Attention can be categorized into two distinct functions: bottom-up attention, referring to attentional guidance purely by externally driven factors to stimuli that are salient because of their inherent properties relative to the background; and top-down attention, referring to internal guidance of attention based on prior knowledge, willful plans, and current goals. Over the past few years, insights on the neural circuits and mechanisms of bottom-up and top-down attention have been gained through neurophysiological experiments. Attention affects the mean neuronal firing rate as well as its variability and correlation across neurons. Although distinct processes mediate the guidance of attention based on bottom-up and top-down factors, a common neural apparatus, the frontoparietal network, is essential in both types of attentional processes.

Keywords: intraparietal sulcus; monkey; neurophysiology; posterior parietal; prefrontal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology