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The time course of cortical facilitation during cued shifts of spatial attention


Adaptive behavior requires the rapid switching of attention among potentially relevant stimuli that appear in the environment. The present study used an electrophysiological approach to continuously measure the time course of visual pathway facilitation in human subjects as attention was shifted from one location to another. Steady-state visual evoked potentials (SSVEPs) were recorded to rapidly flickering lights at attended and unattended locations, and variations in SSVEP amplitude over time were calculated after a cue to shift attention. The build-up of cortical facilitation reflected in SSVEP amplitude was found to bear a close temporal relationship with the emergence of accurate target discriminations at the newly attended location.

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Figure 1: Schematic diagram of stimulus array and electrode positions, with SSVEP waveforms from one subject shown for the attended (boldline) and unattended (thin line) conditions recorded from contralateral occipito-temporal sites TO2 and TO1.
Figure 2: Representative time- and frequency-domain waveforms from a single subject.
Figure 3: Electrophysiological and behavioral indices of attentional switching.
Figure 4: Time course of SSVEP amplitude increases (moving window FFT functions) and percentage of correct target detections (with standard errors) in 144-ms bins plotted separately for the four subjects who showed the fastest switching of attention following the cue (bold line, open bars) and the four subjects showing the slowest switching time (thin line, solid bars).


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We thank Jon Hansen, Lourdes Anllo-Vento, Matt Marlow and Carlos Nava for technical advice and support. The work was supported by grants from ONR (N00014-93-I-0942), NIMH (MH-25594), NIH (NS 17778) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

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Correspondence to Matthias M. Müller.

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Müller, M., Teder-Sälejärvi, W. & Hillyard, S. The time course of cortical facilitation during cued shifts of spatial attention. Nat Neurosci 1, 631–634 (1998).

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