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J Neurophysiol. 2004 Sep;92(3):1728-37. Epub 2004 Apr 28.

Neural correlates of the automatic and goal-driven biases in orienting spatial attention.

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Center for Neuroscience Studies, Department of Physiology, Queen's University, 4th Floor, Botterell Hall, Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6, Canada.


How do stimuli in the environment interact with the goals of observers? We addressed this question by showing that the relevance of an abruptly appearing visual object (cue) changes how observers orient attention toward a subsequent object (target) and how this target is represented in the activity of neurons in the superior colliculus. Initially after the appearance of the cue, attention is driven to its locus. This capture of attention is followed by a second bias in orienting attention, where observers preferentially orient to new locations in the visual scene-an effect called inhibition of return. In the superior colliculus, these two automatic biases in orienting attention were associated with changes in neural activity linked to the appearance of the target-relatively stronger activity linked to the capture of attention and weaker activity linked to inhibition of return. This behavioral pattern changes when the cue predicts the upcoming location of the target-the benefit associated with the capture of attention is enhanced and inhibition of return is reduced. These goal-driven changes in behavior were associated with an increase in pretarget- and target-related activity. Taken together, the goals of observers modify stimulus-driven changes in neural activity with both signals represented in the salience maps of the superior colliculi.

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