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J Cogn Neurosci. 2007 Apr;19(4):587-93.

Temporal dynamics of the attentional spotlight: neuronal correlates of attentional capture and inhibition of return in early visual cortex.

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  • 1Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University, Germany.


A stimulus that suddenly appears in the corner of the eye inevitably captures our attention, and this in turn leads to faster detection of a second stimulus presented at the same position shortly thereafter. After about 250 msec, however, this effect reverses and the second stimulus is detected faster when it appears far away from the first. Here, we report a potential physiological correlate of this time-dependent attentional facilitation and inhibition. We measured the activity in visual cortex representations of the second (target) stimulus' location depending on the stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) and spatial distance that separated the target from the preceding cue stimulus. At an SOA of 100 msec, the target yielded larger responses when it was presented near to than far away from the cue. At an SOA of 850 msec, however, the response to the target was more pronounced when it appeared far away from the cue. Our data show how the neural substrate of visual orienting is guided by immediately preceding sensory experience and how a fast-reacting brain system modulates sensory processing by briefly increasing and subsequently decreasing responsiveness in parts of the visual cortex. We propose these activity modulations as the neural correlate of the sequence of perceptual facilitation and inhibition after attentional capture.

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