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J Physiol. 2011 Jan 1;589(Pt 1):49-57. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2010.192666. Epub 2010 Aug 31.

The neural basis of visual attention.

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Department of Neurobiology and Jules Stein Eye Institute, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1763, USA.


Visual attention is the mechanism the nervous system uses to highlight specific locations, objects or features within the visual field. This can be accomplished by making an eye movement to bring the object onto the fovea (overt attention) or by increased processing of visual information in neurons representing more peripheral regions of the visual field (covert attention). This review will examine two aspects of visual attention: the changes in neural responses within visual cortices due to the allocation of covert attention; and the neural activity in higher cortical areas involved in guiding the allocation of attention. The first section will highlight processes that occur during visual spatial attention and feature-based attention in cortical visual areas and several related models that have recently been proposed to explain this activity. The second section will focus on the parietofrontal network thought to be involved in targeting eye movements and allocating covert attention. It will describe evidence that the lateral intraparietal area, frontal eye field and superior colliculus are involved in the guidance of visual attention, and describe the priority map model, which is thought to operate in at least several of these areas.

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