Abstract

Selective attention may be focused upon a region of interest within the visual surroundings, thereby improving the perceptual quality of stimuli at that location. It has been debated whether this spatially selective mechanism plays a role in the attentive selection of whole objects in a visual scene. The relationship between spatial and object-selective attention was investigated here through recordings of event-related brain potentials (ERPs) supplemented with functional magnetic brain imaging (fMRI). Subjects viewed a display consisting of two bar-shaped objects and directed attention to sequences of stimuli (brief corner offsets) at one end of one of the bars. Unattended stimuli belonging to the same object as the attended stimuli elicited spatiotemporal patterns of neural activity in the visual cortex closely resembling those elicited by the attended stimuli themselves, albeit smaller in amplitude. This enhanced neural activity associated with object-selective attention was localized by use of ERP dipole modeling and fMRI to the lateral occipital extrastriate cortex. We conclude that object-selective attention shares a common neural mechanism with spatial attention that entails the facilitation of sensory processing of stimuli within the boundaries of an attended object.

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