This event-related fMRI experiment examined the neural substrates of exogenous visuospatial attention. Exogenous attention produces a biphasic response pattern denoted by facilitation at short cue–target intervals and inhibition of return (IOR) at longer intervals. Whereas the volitional orienting of attention has been well described in the literature, the neural systems that support exogenous facilitation and IOR in humans are relatively unknown. In direct comparisons to valid facilitation trials, valid IOR trials produced unique foci of activation in the right posterior parietal, superior temporal, middle temporal, middle occipital, anterior cingulate, and dorsal medial thalamic areas. Valid IOR trials also resulted in activation of motor exploratory and frontal areas previously associated with inhibition and oculomotor control. In contrast, invalid IOR compared to facilitation trials only activated anterior cortical structures. These results provide support for both attentional and oculomotor theories of IOR and suggest that IOR may be mediated by two networks. One network may mediate the inhibitory bias following an exogenous cue, whereas a separate network may be activated when a response must be made to stimuli that appear in inhibited locations of space.

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