The representation of visual salience in monkey parietal cortex

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When natural scenes are viewed, a multitude of objects that are stable in their environments are brought in and out of view by eye movements. The posterior parietal cortex is crucial for the analysis of space, visual attention and movement1. Neurons in one of its subdivisions, the lateral intraparietal area (LIP), have visual responses to stimuli appearing abruptly at particular retinal locations (their receptive fields)2. We have tested the responses of LIP neurons to stimuli that entered their receptive field by saccades. Neurons had little or no response to stimuli brought into their receptive field by saccades, unless the stimuli were behaviourally significant. We established behavioural significance in two ways: either by making a stable stimulus task-relevant, or by taking advantage of the attentional attraction of an abruptly appearing stimulus. Our results show that under ordinary circumstances the entire visual world is only weakly represented in LIP. The visual representation in LIP is sparse, with only the mostsalient or behaviourally relevant objects being strongly represented.

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Figure 1: Effect of a recent onset on responses of one neuron.
Figure 2: Responses of one neuron during the stable-target task.
Figure 3: a, No-target task.


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We thank J. Edelman, M. Basso, K. Powell, R. Krauzlis and M. Sommer for discussions of the manuscript; the staff of the Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research for help; D. Arends and B. Keegan for animal care; N. Nichols and T. Ruffner for technical assistance; J. McClurkin for the visual display software; L. Jensen for electronics; A. Hays for computer systems; J. Raber for veterinary care; the Laboratory of Diagnostic Radiology Research for roviding MRI services; and J. Steinberg and R.Harvey for facilitating this work.

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Correspondence to Michael E. Goldberg.

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