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Logo of behbrainBioMed CentralBiomed Central Web Sitesearchsubmit a manuscriptregisterthis articleBehavioral and Brain Functions : BBFJournal Front Page
Behav Brain Funct. 2012; 8: 6.
Published online 2012 February 2. doi:  10.1186/1744-9081-8-6
PMCID: PMC3355026

Is that a belt or a snake? object attentional selection affects the early stages of visual sensory processing



There is at present crescent empirical evidence deriving from different lines of ERPs research that, unlike previously observed, the earliest sensory visual response, known as C1 component or P/N80, generated within the striate cortex, might be modulated by selective attention to visual stimulus features. Up to now, evidence of this modulation has been related to space location, and simple features such as spatial frequency, luminance, and texture. Additionally, neurophysiological conditions, such as emotion, vigilance, the reflexive or voluntary nature of input attentional selection, and workload have also been related to C1 modulations, although at least the workload status has received controversial indications. No information is instead available, at present, for objects attentional selection.


In this study object- and space-based attention mechanisms were conjointly investigated by presenting complex, familiar shapes of artefacts and animals, intermixed with distracters, in different tasks requiring the selection of a relevant target-category within a relevant spatial location, while ignoring the other shape categories within this location, and, overall, all the categories at an irrelevant location. EEG was recorded from 30 scalp electrode sites in 21 right-handed participants.

Results and Conclusions

ERP findings showed that visual processing was modulated by both shape- and location-relevance per se, beginning separately at the latency of the early phase of a precocious negativity (60-80 ms) at mesial scalp sites consistent with the C1 component, and a positivity at more lateral sites. The data also showed that the attentional modulation progressed conjointly at the latency of the subsequent P1 (100-120 ms) and N1 (120-180 ms), as well as later-latency components. These findings support the views that (1) V1 may be precociously modulated by direct top-down influences, and participates to object, besides simple features, attentional selection; (2) object spatial and non-spatial features selection might begin with an early, parallel detection of a target object in the visual field, followed by the progressive focusing of spatial attention onto the location of an actual target for its identification, somehow in line with neural mechanisms reported in the literature as "object-based space selection", or with those proposed for visual search.

Keywords: ERPs, C1, P1, N1, visual selective attention, visual striate cortex, V1, space and object parallel processing, shape processing time course, shape categorization

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