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J Neurosci. 1999 Sep 1;19(17):7591-602.

Effects of attention on the processing of motion in macaque middle temporal and medial superior temporal visual cortical areas.

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Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Department of Neurology, University of Tübingen, 72076 Tübingen, Germany.


The visual system is continually inundated with information received by the eyes. Only a fraction of this information appears to reach visual awareness. This process of selection is one of the functions ascribed to visual attention. Although many studies have investigated the role of attention in shaping neuronal representations in cortical areas, few have focused on attentional modulation of neuronal signals related to visual motion. We recorded from 89 direction-selective neurons in middle temporal (MT) and medial superior temporal (MST) visual cortical areas of two macaque monkeys using identical sensory stimulation under various attentional conditions. Neural responses in both areas were greatly influenced by attention. When attention was directed to a stimulus inside the receptive field of a neuron, responses in MT and MST were enhanced an average of 20 and 40% compared with a condition in which attention was directed outside the receptive field. Even stronger average enhancements (70% in MT and 100% in MST) were observed when attention was switched from a stimulus moving in the nonpreferred direction inside the receptive field to another stimulus in the receptive field that was moving in the preferred direction. These findings show that attention modulates motion processing from stages early in the dorsal visual pathway by selectively enhancing the representation of attended stimuli and simultaneously reducing the influence of unattended stimuli.

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