Nonspatially selective attention is based on the notion that specific features or objects in the visual environment are effectively prioritized in cortical visual processing. Feature-based attention (FBA), in particular, is a well-studied process that dynamically and selectively addresses neurons preferentially processing the attended feature attribute (e.g., leftward motion). In everyday life, however, behavior may require high sensitivity for an entire feature dimension (e.g., motion), but experimental evidence for a feature dimension-specific attentional modulation on a cellular level is lacking. Therefore, we investigated neuronal activity in macaque motion-selective mediotemporal area (MT) in an experimental setting requiring the monkeys to detect either a motion change or a color change. We hypothesized that neural activity in MT is enhanced when the task requires perceptual sensitivity to motion. In line with this, we found that mean firing rates were higher in the motion task and that response variability and latency were lower compared with values in the color task, despite identical visual stimulation. This task-specific, dimension-based modulation of motion processing emerged already in the absence of visual input, was independent of the relation between the attended and stimulating motion direction, and was accompanied by a spatially global reduction of neuronal variability. The results provide single-cell support for the hypothesis of a feature dimension-specific top-down signal emphasizing the processing of an entire feature class.
Schledde, B., Galashan, F. O., Przybyla, M., Kreiter, A. K., & Wegener, D. (2017). Task-specific, dimension-based attentional shaping of motion processing in monkey area MT. Journal of Neurophysiology, 118(3), 1542-1555. https://doi.org/10.1152/jn.00183.2017