fMRI correlates of object-based attentional facilitation versus suppression of irrelevant stimuli

Freeman, E. D., Macaluso, E., Rees, G. & Driver, J. (2014). fMRI correlates of object-based attentional facilitation versus suppression of irrelevant stimuli. Perception, 43(10), p. 1116. doi: 10.1068/ava13xm

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Abstract

Theories of object-based attention often make two assumptions: that attentional resources are facilitatory, and that they spread automatically within grouped objects. Consistent with this, ignored visual stimuli can be easier to process, or more distracting, when perceptually grouped with an attended target stimulus. But in past studies, the ignored stimuli often shared potentially relevant features or locations with the target. In this fMRI study, we measured the effects of attention and grouping on Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent (BOLD) responses in the human brain to entirely task-irrelevant events.

Two checkerboards were displayed each in opposite hemifields, while participants responded to check-size changes in one pre-cued hemifield, which varied between blocks. Grouping (or segmentation) between hemifields was manipulated between blocks, using common (versus distinct) motion cues. Task-irrelevant transient events were introduced by randomly changing the colour of either checkerboard, attended or ignored, at unpredictable intervals.

The above assumptions predict heightened BOLD signals for irrelevant events in attended versus ignored hemifields for ungrouped contexts, but less such attentional modulation under grouping, due to automatic spreading of facilitation across hemifields. We found the opposite pattern, in primary visual cortex. For ungrouped stimuli, BOLD signals associated with task-irrelevant changes were lower, not higher, in the attended versus ignored hemifield; furthermore, attentional modulation was not reduced but actually inverted under grouping, with higher signals for events in the attended versus ignored hemifield.

These results challenge two popular assumptions underlying object-based attention. We consider a broader biased-competition framework: task-irrelevant stimuli are suppressed according to how strongly they compete with task-relevant stimuli, with intensified competition when the irrelevant features or locations comprise the same object.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Item at DOI 10.1068/ava13xm is a collection of extended abstracts from Applied Vision Association Christmas Meeting, Leuven, Belgium 19–20 December 2013. Paper to accompany abstract is attached.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: School of Social Sciences > Department of Psychology
URI: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/13397

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