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Object selection by automatic spreading of top-down attentional signals in V1

Research group Roelfsema
Publication year 2020
Published in The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Authors Matthias Ekman, P.R. Roelfsema, Floris P de Lange

What is selected when attention is directed to a specific location of the visual field? Theories of object-based attention have suggested that when spatial attention is directed to part of an object, attention does not simply enhance the attended location but automatically spreads to enhance all locations that comprise the object. Here, we tested this hypothesis by reconstructing the distribution of attention from V1 population neuronal activity patterns in twenty-four human adults (17 female) using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and population-based receptive field mapping. We find that attention spreads from a spatially cued location to the underlying object – and enhances all spatial locations that comprise the object. Importantly, this spreading was also evident when the object was not task-relevant. These data suggest that attentional selection automatically operates at an object level, facilitating the reconstruction of coherent objects from fragmented representations in early visual cortex.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTObject perception is an astonishing feat of the visual system. When visual information about orientation, shape and color enters through our eyes, it has yet to be integrated into a coherent representation of an object. But which visual features constitute a single object and which features belong to the background? The brain mechanisms underpinning object perception are yet to be understood. We now demonstrate that one candidate mechanism, the successive activation of all parts of an object, occurs in early visual cortex and results in a detailed representation of the object following Gestalt principles. Furthermore, our results suggest that object selection occurs automatically, without involving voluntary control.

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