Attention is thought to impose an informational bottleneck on vision by selecting particular information from visual scenes for enhanced processing. Behavioral evidence suggests, however, that some scene information is extracted even when attention is directed elsewhere. Here, we investigated the neural correlates of this ability by examining how attention affects electrophysiological markers of scene perception. In two electro-encephalography (EEG) experiments, human subjects categorized real-world scenes as manmade or natural (full attention condition) or performed tasks on unrelated stimuli in the center or periphery of the scenes (reduced attention conditions). Scene processing was examined in two ways: traditional trial averaging was used to assess the presence of a categorical manmade/natural distinction in event-related potentials, whereas single-trial analyses assessed whether EEG activity was modulated by scene statistics that are diagnostic of naturalness of individual scenes. The results indicated that evoked activity up to 250 ms was unaffected by reduced attention, showing intact categorical differences between manmade and natural scenes and strong modulations of single-trial activity by scene statistics in all conditions. Thus initial processing of both categorical and individual scene information remained intact with reduced attention. Importantly, however, attention did have profound effects on later evoked activity; full attention on the scene resulted in prolonged manmade/natural differences, increased neural sensitivity to scene statistics, and enhanced scene memory. These results show that initial processing of real-world scene information is intact with diminished attention but that the depth of processing of this information does depend on attention.
Keywords: attention; electro-encephalography/event-related potential; image statistics; natural scenes.
Copyright © 2016 the American Physiological Society.