The what, where, and why of priority maps and their interactions with visual working memory

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2015 Mar;1339(1):154-64. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12606. Epub 2015 Jan 7.


Priority maps are winner-take-all neural mechanisms thought to guide the allocation of covert and overt attention. Here, we go beyond this standard definition and argue that priority maps play a much broader role in controlling goal-directed behavior. We start by defining what priority maps are and where they might be found in the brain; we then ask why they exist-the function that they serve. We propose that this function is to communicate a goal state to the different effector systems, thereby guiding behavior. Within this framework, we speculate on how priority maps interact with visual working memory and introduce our common source hypothesis, the suggestion that this goal state is maintained in visual working memory and used to construct all of the priority maps controlling the various motor systems. Finally, we look ahead and suggest questions about priority maps that should be asked next.

Keywords: prioritization; salience; saliency map.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping* / methods
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*