Graded effects of spatial and featural attention on human area MT and associated motion processing areas

J Neurophysiol. 1997 Jul;78(1):516-20. doi: 10.1152/jn.1997.78.1.516.


Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to quantify the effects of changes in spatial and featural attention on brain activity in the middle temporal visual area and associated motion processing regions (hMT+) of normal human subjects. When subjects performed a discrimination task that directed their spatial attention to a peripherally presented annulus and their featural attention to the speed of points in the annulus, activity in hMT+ was maximal. If subjects were instead asked to discriminate the color of points in the annulus, the magnitude and volume of activation in hMT+ fell to 64 and 35%, respectively, of the previously observed maximum response. In another experiment, subjects were asked to direct their spatial attention away from the annulus toward the fixation point to detect a subtle change in luminance. The response magnitude and volume dropped to 40 and 9% of maximum. These experiments demonstrate that both spatial and featural attention modulate hMT+ and that their effects can work in concert to modulate cortical activity. The high degree of modulation by attention suggests that an understanding of the stimulus-driven properties of visual cortex needs to be complemented with an investigation of the effects of task-related factors on visual processing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Motion*
  • Reference Values
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*