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J Neurophysiol. 1995 Aug;74(2):698-712.

Covert orienting of attention in macaques. II. Contributions of parietal cortex.

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  • 1Section on Visual Behavior, National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


1. To understand some of the contributions of parietal cortex to the dynamics of visual spatial attention, we recorded from cortical cells of monkeys performing attentional tasks. We studied 484 neurons in the intraparietal sulcus and adjacent gyral tissue of two monkeys. We measured phasic responses to peripheral visual stimuli while the monkeys attended toward or away from the stimuli or when attention was not controlled. Neurons were tested while the monkeys gazed at a spot of light (simple fixation task), actively attended to a foveal target (foveal attention task), performed a reaction time task (cued reaction time task), made saccadic eye movements to visual targets (saccade task), or responded to a repetitious peripheral target (probability task). 2. In a previous paper we demonstrated that monkeys, like humans, responded more quickly to visual targets when the targets followed briefly flashed visual cues (validly cued targets) (Bowman et al. 1993). It has been hypothesized that the cue attracts attention to its locus and results in faster reaction times (Posner 1980). In the present physiological studies, visual cues consistently excited these neurons when they were flashed in the receptive field. Such activity might signal a shift of attention. Visual targets that fell within the receptive field and that immediately followed the cue evoked relatively weak responses. This response was due to a relative refractory period. 3. Next we tested attentional processes in these tasks that were independent of the visual response to the cue. We placed the cue outside of the receptive field and the target within the receptive field. We found that 23% of these cells had a significant decrease in their firing rate to validly cued targets in their receptive fields under these conditions. Strong responses were evoked by the same target when the cue was flashed in the opposite hemifield (invalidly cued targets). Thus this group of neurons responded best when attention was directed toward the opposite hemifield. 4. For another group of parietal cells (13%) there was an enhanced response to targets in the visual receptive field when the cue was in the same hemifield. For the remaining 64% of the cells there was no significant modulation in this task. 5. The cued reaction time task involved exogenous control of attention; the sensory cue gave spatial and temporal direction to attention. We used several other tasks to test for endogenous control of attention.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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