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Neural Mechanisms of Object-Based Attention

Science  25 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6182, pp. 424-427
DOI: 10.1126/science.1247003

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House or Face?

The neural mechanisms of spatial attention are well known, unlike nonspatial attention. Baldauf and Desimone (p. 424, published online 10 April) combined several technologies to identify a fronto-temporal network in humans that mediates nonspatial object-based attention. There is a clear top-down directionality of these oscillatory interactions, establishing the inferior-frontal cortex as a key source of nonspatial attentional inputs to the inferior-temporal cortex. Surprisingly, the mechanisms for nonspatial attention are strikingly parallel to the mechanisms of spatial attention.

Abstract

How we attend to objects and their features that cannot be separated by location is not understood. We presented two temporally and spatially overlapping streams of objects, faces versus houses, and used magnetoencephalography and functional magnetic resonance imaging to separate neuronal responses to attended and unattended objects. Attention to faces versus houses enhanced the sensory responses in the fusiform face area (FFA) and parahippocampal place area (PPA), respectively. The increases in sensory responses were accompanied by induced gamma synchrony between the inferior frontal junction, IFJ, and either FFA or PPA, depending on which object was attended. The IFJ appeared to be the driver of the synchrony, as gamma phases were advanced by 20 ms in IFJ compared to FFA or PPA. Thus, the IFJ may direct the flow of visual processing during object-based attention, at least in part through coupled oscillations with specialized areas such as FFA and PPA.

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