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Neuroimage. 2002 Jan;15(1):16-25.

Visual feature and conjunction searches of equal difficulty engage only partially overlapping frontoparietal networks.

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Department of Neurology, Charité, Humboldt-University, Berlin, Germany.


According to a classical view of visual object recognition, targets are detected "pre-attentively" if they carry unique features, whereas attention has to be deployed serially to object locations for feature binding if the targets can be distinguished from distracters only in terms of their feature conjunctions. Consistent with this view, recent reports suggest a contribution of the posterior parietal cortex (PPC; one major region controlling spatial attention) to conjunction search as opposed to feature search. However, PPC engagement in conjunction search might also reflect feature-based attention or the difficulty of target selection. The present fMRI study compared regions and amplitudes of cortical activity reflecting the attention mechanisms of a conjunction and a feature search of equal difficulty performed during maintenance of fixation. Attention-related activity was assessed by comparing each hard feature and conjunction search with an easy feature search. Hard feature and conjunction search activated overlapping regions in multiple PPC areas and in the frontal eye field (FEF). Most consistent PPC overlaps were located in the anterior and posterior intraparietal sulcus (IPS). The response amplitude of posterior IPS did not differ between both search tasks. However, the IPS junction with the transverse occipital sulcus and the FEF responded at a higher amplitude during conjunction search. Moreover, regions of the prefrontal cortex and the PPC were activated only during either hard feature or conjunction search. These findings suggest that equally difficult visual searches for features and conjunctions are controlled by overlapping frontoparietal networks, but also that both search types involve specific mechanisms.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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