Send to

Choose Destination
J Neurosci. 2011 Jun 1;31(22):8210-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6153-09.2011.

Attention improves encoding of task-relevant features in the human visual cortex.

Author information

Psychology Department and Vanderbilt Vision Research Center, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee 37240, USA.


When spatial attention is directed toward a particular stimulus, increased activity is commonly observed in corresponding locations of the visual cortex. Does this attentional increase in activity indicate improved processing of all features contained within the attended stimulus, or might spatial attention selectively enhance the features relevant to the observer's task? We used fMRI decoding methods to measure the strength of orientation-selective activity patterns in the human visual cortex while subjects performed either an orientation or contrast discrimination task, involving one of two laterally presented gratings. Greater overall BOLD activation with spatial attention was observed in visual cortical areas V1-V4 for both tasks. However, multivariate pattern analysis revealed that orientation-selective responses were enhanced by attention only when orientation was the task-relevant feature and not when the contrast of the grating had to be attended. In a second experiment, observers discriminated the orientation or color of a specific lateral grating. Here, orientation-selective responses were enhanced in both tasks, but color-selective responses were enhanced only when color was task relevant. In both experiments, task-specific enhancement of feature-selective activity was not confined to the attended stimulus location but instead spread to other locations in the visual field, suggesting the concurrent involvement of a global feature-based attentional mechanism. These results suggest that attention can be remarkably selective in its ability to enhance particular task-relevant features and further reveal that increases in overall BOLD amplitude are not necessarily accompanied by improved processing of stimulus information.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center