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Curr Biol. 2008 Jul 8;18(13):1006-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.06.030.

Attention facilitates multiple stimulus features in parallel in human visual cortex.

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Institut für Psychologie I, Universität Leipzig, Seeburgstrasse 14-20, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.


Successfully locating a dangerous or desirable object within a cluttered visual scene is a commonplace yet highly adaptive skill. In the laboratory, this ability is modeled by visual search experiments in which subjects try to find a target item surrounded by an array of distracting stimuli. Under certain conditions, targets that are distinguishable from distractors by virtue of having a particular combination of shared sensory features (e.g., a particular color and orientation) can be found rapidly regardless of the number of distractors. To explain this highly efficient localization of feature-conjunction targets, "guided search" theories propose that attention is directed in parallel to the individual features that define the target, which then stands out from the distractors because of additive facilitation of its feature signals. Here we recorded frequency-tagged potentials evoked in human visual cortex and found that color and orientation features of target stimuli are indeed facilitated by attention in a parallel and additive manner. This additive feature-enhancement mechanism, reported here for the first time, not only enables rapid guided search but also plays a broader role in directing and sustaining attention to multi-feature objects and keeping them perceptually distinct from background clutter.

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