Attention in the real world: toward understanding its neural basis

Trends Cogn Sci. 2014 May;18(5):242-50. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2014.02.004. Epub 2014 Mar 13.


The efficient selection of behaviorally relevant objects from cluttered environments supports our everyday goals. Attentional selection has typically been studied in search tasks involving artificial and simplified displays. Although these studies have revealed important basic principles of attention, they do not explain how the brain efficiently selects familiar objects in complex and meaningful real-world scenes. Findings from recent neuroimaging studies indicate that real-world search is mediated by 'what' and 'where' attentional templates that are implemented in high-level visual cortex. These templates represent target-diagnostic properties and likely target locations, respectively, and are shaped by object familiarity, scene context, and memory. We propose a framework for real-world search that incorporates these recent findings and specifies directions for future study.

Keywords: attention; natural scenes; object perception; vision; visual search.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Humans
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*