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J Neurosci. 2014 Aug 27;34(35):11526-33. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0980-14.2014.

Within-hemifield competition in early visual areas limits the ability to track multiple objects with attention.

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Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, and
Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, and.
Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, and Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne Paris Cité, CNRS UMR 8242, Paris, France.


It is much easier to divide attention across the left and right visual hemifields than within the same visual hemifield. Here we investigate whether this benefit of dividing attention across separate visual fields is evident at early cortical processing stages. We measured the steady-state visual evoked potential, an oscillatory response of the visual cortex elicited by flickering stimuli, of moving targets and distractors while human observers performed a tracking task. The amplitude of responses at the target frequencies was larger than that of the distractor frequencies when participants tracked two targets in separate hemifields, indicating that attention can modulate early visual processing when it is divided across hemifields. However, these attentional modulations disappeared when both targets were tracked within the same hemifield. These effects were not due to differences in task performance, because accuracy was matched across the tracking conditions by adjusting target speed (with control conditions ruling out effects due to speed alone). To investigate later processing stages, we examined the P3 component over central-parietal scalp sites that was elicited by the test probe at the end of the trial. The P3 amplitude was larger for probes on targets than on distractors, regardless of whether attention was divided across or within a hemifield, indicating that these higher-level processes were not constrained by visual hemifield. These results suggest that modulating early processing stages enables more efficient target tracking, and that within-hemifield competition limits the ability to modulate multiple target representations within the hemifield maps of the early visual cortex.


EEG/SSVEP; hemifield independence; tracking; visual attention

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