Attention by J. Patrick Mayo & John H. R. Maunsell published in the Journal of Neuroscience, May 11, 2016 36(19):5353–5361.
Studies of visual attention in monkeys typically measure neuronal activity when the stimulus event to be detected occurs at a cued location versus when it occurs at an uncued location. But this approach does not address how neuronal activity changes relative to conditions where attention is unconstrained by cueing. Human psychophysical studies have used neutral cueing conditions and found that neutrally cued behavioral performance is generally intermediate to that of cued and uncued conditions (Posner et al., 1978; Mangun and Hillyard, 1990; Montagna et al., 2009). To determine whether the neuronal correlates of visual attention during neutral cueing are similarly intermediate, we trained macaque monkeys to detect changes in stimulus orientation that were more likely to occur at one location (cued) than another (uncued), or were equally likely to occur at either stimulus location (neutral). Consistent with human studies, performance was best when the location was cued, intermediate when both locations were neutrally cued, and worst when the location was uncued. Neuronal modulations in visual area V4 were also graded as a function of cue validity and behavioral performance. By recording from both hemispheres simultaneously, we investigated the possibility of switching attention between stimulus locations during neutral cueing. The results failed to support a unitary “spotlight” of attention. Overall, our findings indicate that attention-related changes in V4 are graded to accommodate task demands.