The neural basis of attention

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Introduction The sensory world is rich in information, but our nervous system necessarily limits how much information can be processed at any given time due to intrinsic limitations on processing capacity. By enhancing the processing of relevant information and/or by inhibiting irrelevant or distracting events and actions, selective attention provides a means by which organisms regulate the flow of information. This attention-related prioritization in processing has been termed selection, a concept from cognitive psychology (Deutsch & Deutsch, 1963) that refers to the manner in which attended information is tagged (selected) for further processing while competing information is rejected. We will use the term selection to refer to the outcome of the attentional modulation of information processing, but without implying that unattended information has no effect or influence on cognition or behavior (Vogel et al., 1998). During the processing of information, selective attention affects how an individual perceives or experiences a stimulus, as well as how they respond to it. For example, selective attention to a location in the visual field (spatial attention) facilitates processing of stimuli appearing at the attended location: reaction times (RT) are faster and discrimination accuracy is enhanced for events at attended versus unattended locations (Downing, 1988; Handy et al., 1996; Hawkins et al., 1990; Heinze & Mangun, 1995; Luck et al., 1994; Posner & Cohen, 1984). Recent studies have revealed that spatial attention can also alter stimulus appearance by altering the apparent contrast, spatial frequency and size of stimuli (Carrasco et al., 2004; Gobell & Carrasco, 2005).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Neuropsychology of Mental Illness
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9780511642197, 9780521862899
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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