Global Facilitation of Attended Features Is Obligatory and Restricts Divided Attention

Søren K. Andersen, Steven A Hillyard, Matthias M Muller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


In many common situations such as driving an automobile it is advantageous to attend concurrently to events at different locations (e.g., the car in front, the pedestrian to the side). While spatial attention can be divided effectively between separate locations, studies investigating attention to nonspatial features have often reported a “global effect”, whereby items having the attended feature may be preferentially processed throughout the entire visual field. These findings suggest that spatial and feature-based attention may at times act in direct opposition: spatially divided foci of attention cannot be truly independent if feature attention is spatially global and thereby affects all foci equally.

In two experiments, human observers attended concurrently to one of two overlapping fields of dots of different colors presented in both the left and right visual fields. When the same color or two different colors were attended on the two sides, deviant targets were detected accurately, and visual-cortical potentials elicited by attended dots were enhanced. However, when the attended color on one side matched the ignored color on the opposite side, attentional modulation of cortical potentials was abolished. This loss of feature selectivity could be attributed to enhanced processing of unattended items that shared the color of the attended items in the opposite field. Thus, while it is possible to attend to two different colors at the same time, this ability is fundamentally constrained by spatially global feature enhancement in early visual-cortical areas, which is obligatory and persists even when it explicitly conflicts with task demands.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18200-18207
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number46
Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2013


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