Attentive processing is often described as a competition for resources among stimuli by mutual suppression. This is supported by findings that activity in extrastriate cortex is suppressed when several stimuli are presented simultaneously, compared to a single stimulus. In this study, we randomly varied the number of simultaneously presented figures (set size) in an attention-demanding change detection task, while we recorded multiunit activity in striate cortex (V1) in monkeys. After figure–background segregation, activity was suppressed as set size increased. This effect was stronger and started earlier among cells stimulated by the background than those stimulated by the figures themselves. As a consequence, contextual modulation, a correlate of figure–background segregation, increased with set size, approximately 100 msec after its initial generation. The results indicate that suppression of responses under increasing attentional demands differentially affects figure and background responses in area V1.

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