When analyzing visual scenes, it is sometimes important to determine the relevant “grain” size. Attention control mechanisms may help direct our processing to the intended grain size. Here we used the event-related optical signal, a method possessing high temporal and spatial resolution, to examine the involvement of brain structures within the dorsal attention network (DAN) and the visual processing network (VPN) in preparation for the appropriate level of analysis. Behavioral data indicate that the small features of a hierarchical stimulus (local condition) are more difficult to process than the large features (global condition). Consistent with this finding, cues predicting a local trial were associated with greater DAN activation. This activity was bilateral but more pronounced in the left hemisphere, where it showed a frontal-to-parietal progression over time. Furthermore, the amount of DAN activation, especially in the left hemisphere and in parietal regions, was predictive of subsequent performance. Although local cues elicited left-lateralized DAN activity, no preponderantly right activity was observed for global cues; however, the data indicated an interaction between level of analysis (local vs. global) and hemisphere in VPN. They further showed that local processing involves structures in the ventral VPN, whereas global processing involves structures in the dorsal VPN. These results indicate that in our study preparation for analyzing different size features is an asymmetric process, in which greater preparation is required to focus on small rather than large features, perhaps because of their lesser salience. This preparation involves the same DAN used for other attention control operations.

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