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J Vis. 2019 Jul 1;19(7):9. doi: 10.1167/19.7.9.

Development of spatial suppression surrounding the focus of visual attention.

Author information

Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, San Francisco, CA, USA.
Centre for Vision Research, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, Canada.


In adulthood, research has demonstrated that surrounding the spatial location of attentional focus is a suppressive field, resulting from top-down attention promoting the processing of relevant stimuli and inhibiting surrounding distractors (e.g., Hopf et al., 2006). It is not fully known, however, how this phenomenon manifests during development. This is an important question since attention processes are likely even more critical in development because of their potential impact on learning and day-to-day activities. The current study examined whether spatial suppression surrounding the focus of visual attention, a predicted by-product of top-down attentional modulation, is observed in development. A wide age range separated in six incremental age levels was included, allowing for a detailed examination of potential differences in the effect of attention on visual processing across development. Participants between 12 and 27 years of age exhibited spatial suppression surrounding their focus of visual attention. Their accuracy increased as a function of the separation distance between a spatially cued (and attended) target and a second target, suggesting that a ring of suppression surrounded the attended target. Attentional surround suppression was not observed in 8- to 11-years-olds, even with a longer spatial cue presentation time, demonstrating that the lack of the effect at these ages is not due to slowed attentional feedback processes. Our findings demonstrate that top-down attentional processes exhibit functional maturity beginning around 12 years of age with continuing maturation of their expression until 17, which likely impacts education and the diagnosis of visual and cognitive clinical pathologies.


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