According to conventional neurobiological accounts of visual attention, attention serves to enhance extrastriate neuronal responses to a stimulus at one spatial location in the visual field. However, recent results from recordings in extrastriate cortex of monkeys suggest that any enhancing effect of attention is best understood in the context of competitive interactions among neurons representing all of the stimuli present in the visual field. These interactions can be biased in favour of behaviourally relevant stimuli as a result of many different processes, both spatial and non-spatial, and both bottom-up and top-down. The resolution of this competition results in the suppression of the neuronal representations of behaviourally irrelevant stimuli in extrastriate cortex. A main source of top-down influence may derive from neuronal systems underlying working memory.