Attention filters behaviorally relevant stimuli from the constant stream of sensory information comprising our environment. Research into underlying neural mechanisms in humans suggests that visual attention biases mutual suppression between stimuli resulting from competition for limited processing resources. As a consequence, processing of an attended stimulus is facilitated. This account makes 2 assumptions: 1) An attended stimulus is released from mutual suppression with competing stimuli and 2) an attended stimulus experiences greater gain in the presence of competing stimuli than when it is presented alone. Here, we tested these assumptions by recording frequency-tagged potentials elicited in early visual cortex that index stimulus-specific processing. We contrasted the processing of a given stimulus when its location was attended or unattended and in the presence or the absence of a nearby competing stimulus. At variance with previous findings, competition similarly suppressed processing of attended and unattended stimuli. Moreover, the magnitude of attentional gain was comparable in the presence or the absence of competing stimuli. We conclude that visuospatial selective attention does not directly modulate mutual suppression between stimuli but instead acts as a signal gain, which biases processing toward attended stimuli independent of competition.
- biased competition
- human visual cortex
- sensory gain control
- steady-state visual evoked potentials