Alpha-band Activity Tracks the Zoom Lens of Attention

J Cogn Neurosci. 2020 Feb;32(2):272-282. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01484. Epub 2019 Oct 21.


Voluntary control over spatial attention has been likened to the operation of a zoom lens, such that processing quality declines as the size of the attended region increases, with a gradient of performance that peaks at the center of the selected area. Although concurrent changes in activity in visual regions suggest that zoom lens adjustments influence perceptual stages of processing, extant work has not distinguished between changes in the spatial selectivity of attention-driven neural activity and baseline shift of activity that can increase mean levels of activity without changes in selectivity. Here, we distinguished between these alternatives by measuring EEG activity in humans to track preparatory changes in alpha activity that indexed the precise topography of attention across the possible target positions. We observed increased spatial selectivity in alpha activity when observers voluntarily directed attention toward a narrower region of space, a pattern that was mirrored in target discrimination accuracy. Thus, alpha activity tracks both the centroid and spatial extent of covert spatial attention before the onset of the target display, lending support to the hypothesis that narrowing the zoom lens of attention shapes the initial encoding of sensory information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alpha Rhythm / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • Humans
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult