Neural mechanisms of visual selective attention

Psychophysiology. 1995 Jan;32(1):4-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.1995.tb03400.x.


Visual selective attention improves our perception and performance by modifying sensory inputs at an early stage of processing. Spatial attention produces the most consistent early modulations of visual processing, which can be observed when attention is voluntarily allocated to locations. These effects of spatial attention are similar when attention is cued in a trial-by-trial, or sustained, fashion and are manifest as changes in the amplitudes, but not the latencies, of evoked neural activity recorded from the intact human scalp. This modulation of sensory processing first occurs within the extrastriate visual cortex and not within the striate or earlier subcortical processing stages. These relatively early spatial filters alter the inputs to higher stages of visual analysis that are responsible for feature extraction and ultimately object perception and recognition, and thus provide physiological evidence for early precategorical selection during visual attention. Moreover, the physiological evidence extends early selection theories by providing neurophysiologically precise information about the stages of visual processing affected by attention.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology
  • Humans
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*