Spatial and feature-selective attention have distinct, interacting effects on population-level tuning

Erin Goddard*, Thomas A. Carlson, Alexandra Woolgar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
20 Downloads (Pure)


Attention can be deployed in different ways: When searching for a taxi in New York City, we can decide where to attend (e.g., to the street) and what to attend to (e.g., yellow cars). Although we use the same word to describe both processes, nonhuman primate data suggest that these produce distinct effects on neural tuning. This has been challenging to assess in humans, but here we used an opportunity afforded by multivariate decoding of MEG data. We found that attending to an object at a particular location and attending to a particular object feature produced effects that interacted multiplicatively. The two types of attention induced distinct patterns of enhancement in occipital cortex, with feature-selective attention producing relatively more enhancement of small feature differences and spatial attention producing relatively larger effects for larger feature differences. An information flow analysis further showed that stimulus representations in occipital cortex were Granger-caused by coding in frontal cortices earlier in time and that the timing of this feedback matched the onset of attention effects. The data suggest that spatial and feature-selective attention rely on distinct neural mechanisms that arise from frontal-occipital information exchange, interacting multiplicatively to selectively enhance task-relevant information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-312
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of cognitive neuroscience
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2021 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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