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Mechanisms of Visual Attention in the Human Brain

Dr. Sabine Kastner

Monday, October 08, 2007, 01:00pm - 02:00pm

Princeton University, Department of Psychology

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Natural visual scenes are cluttered and contain many different objects that cannot all be processed simultaneously. Therefore, attentional mechanisms are needed to select relevant and to filter out irrelevant information. Evidence from functional brain imaging reveals that attention operates at various processing levels within the visual system and beyond. First, the lateral geniculate nucleus appears to be the first stage in the processing of visual information that is modulated by attention, consistent with the idea that it may play an important role as an early gatekeeper in controlling neural gain. Second, areas at intermediate cortical processing levels such as V4 and TEO appear to be important sites at which top-down and bottom-up mechanisms for the filtering of unwanted information operate. And third, the attention mechanisms that operate in the visual system appear to be controlled by a distributed network of higher-order areas in frontal and parietal cortex, which generate top-down signals that are transmitted via feedback connections to the visual system. The overall view that emerges is that neural mechanisms of selective attention operate at multiple stages in the visual system and beyond and are determined by the visual processing capabilities of each stage. Hence, attention can be considered in terms of a multi-level selection process. In my talk, I will review some of our recent studies supporting such an account of selective attention.

Suggested readings:

Reynolds JH, Gottlieb J, Kastner S (2002). Attention. In: Fundamental neuroscience, 2nd edition; eds.: Bloom, McConnell, Roberts, Spitzer, Squire, Zigmond; Academic Press,1249-1275.

This is a great textbook article for graduate students. Gives a good overview of the main topics in the attention field considering results from physiology and neuroimaging.

Kastner S, Pinsk MA (2004). Visual attention as a multilevel selection process. Cog., Affect. & Behav. Neurosci. 4: 483-500.

A review article that summarizes the work that we have done over the years and attempts to depict the studies in a unified framework.

For downloads, please go to my lab webpage:">

Dr. Sabine Kastner