Neuronal Mechanisms of Visual Attention

Annu Rev Vis Sci. 2015 Nov 24;1:373-391. doi: 10.1146/annurev-vision-082114-035431.


Advances on several fronts have refined our understanding of the neuronal mechanisms of attention. This review focuses on recent progress in understanding visual attention through single-neuron recordings made in behaving subjects. Simultaneous recordings from populations of individual cells have shown that attention is associated with changes in the correlated firing of neurons that can enhance the quality of sensory representations. Other work has shown that sensory normalization mechanisms are important for explaining many aspects of how visual representations change with attention, and these mechanisms must be taken into account when evaluating attention-related neuronal modulations. Studies comparing different brain structures suggest that attention is composed of several cognitive processes, which might be controlled by different brain regions. Collectively, these and other recent findings provide a clearer picture of how representations in the visual system change when attention shifts from one target to another.

Keywords: cerebral cortex; normalization; primates; spatial attention; vision.