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Attention drives human numerosity-selective responses

Research group Dumoulin
Publication year 2022
Published in Cell Reports
Authors Yuxuan Cai, Shir Hofstetter, Ben M. Harvey, Serge O. Dumoulin

Numerosity, the set size of a group of items, helps guide behavior and decisions. Previous studies have shown that neural populations respond selectively to numerosities. How numerosity is extracted from the visual scene is a longstanding debate, often contrasting low-level visual with high-level cognitive processes. Here, we investigate how attention influences numerosity-selective responses. The stimuli consisted of black and white dots within the same display. Participants’ attention was focused on either black or white dots, while we systematically changed the numerosity of black, white, and total dots. Using 7 T fMRI, we show that the numerosity-tuned neural populations respond only when attention is focused on their preferred numerosity, irrespective of the unattended or total numerosities. Without attention, responses to preferred numerosity are suppressed. Unlike traditional effects of attention in the visual cortex, where attention enhances already existing responses, these results suggest that attention is required to drive numerosity-selective responses.

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