Attention has played a central role in perception research since the dawn of experimental psychology. Over the past 20 years, the neurophysiological basis of visual attention has become an active area of research, and the field of visual psychophysics has developed rigorous methods for measuring and characterizing the effects of attention on visual performance, yielding an explosion of findings. These experiments have documented a bewildering variety of empirical phenomena, some of which appear to be mutually contradictory. One example concerns the interaction between attention and visual stimulus contrast. The results of some experiments suggest that attention increases neuronal responses multiplicatively by applying a fixed response gain factor. Other results suggest a change in contrast gain. Still other results suggest that attention may have a fixed additive effect, which can be approximated as a combination of both response gain and contrast gain changes. These ostensibly contradictory empirical findings have been paralleled by theoretical ideas that have been taken to represent alternative models of attention. We propose to develop and test a computational theory, called the normalization model of attention, and to unify/reconcile various alternative, and seemingly conflicting, empirical findings and theoretical models of the effects of attention on neuronal activity in visual cortex.
We aim : (1) to show that the proposed model can exhibit response gain changes, contrast gain changes, and additive-like combinations of response and contrast gain changes, depending on the stimulus conditions and the spread of the attention field;(2) to test the hypothesis that the effect of attention on behavioral performance and perceptual appearance systematically shifts from a change in response gain to contrast gain by manipulating the stimulus size and the spatial extent of the attention field;and (3) to test the hypothesis that attention modulates activity in visual cortex as predicted by the model, and to link attentional modulation of cortical activity (as measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging) with attentional modulation of behavioral performance (as measured psychophysically). The proposed research will utilize convergent information gained from various techniques (computational theory, previous electrophysiology experiments, and novel psychophysics and functional imaging experiments) to contribute to our understanding of how the brain processes visual information, how neural activity is related to visual attention and perception, and how visual processing interacts with other brain systems underlying cognition, in particular, attention.

Public Health Relevance

The experimental protocols and theoretical principles that we develop for studying vision and attention in healthy human subjects will be readily applicable to patient populations. A better understanding of visual attention will lead to a better understanding of factors limiting peripheral vision, which are critical when central vision is compromised due to macular degeneration and related visual deficits. Basic knowledge of visual attention has implications for our understanding of several neuropsychological disorders, including unilateral neglect, schizophrenia and ADHD, and for informing the development of diagnostic tests of these disorders.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Central Visual Processing Study Section (CVP)
Program Officer
Araj, Houmam H
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
New York University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
New York
United States
Zip Code
Grubb, Michael A; White, Alex L; Heeger, David J et al. (2015) Interactions between voluntary and involuntary attention modulate the quality and temporal dynamics of visual processing. Psychon Bull Rev 22:437-44
Yuval-Greenberg, Shlomit; Merriam, Elisha P; Heeger, David J (2014) Spontaneous microsaccades reflect shifts in covert attention. J Neurosci 34:13693-700
Grubb, Michael A; Behrmann, Marlene; Egan, Ryan et al. (2013) Exogenous spatial attention: evidence for intact functioning in adults with autism spectrum disorder. J Vis 13:
Said, Christopher P; Heeger, David J (2013) A model of binocular rivalry and cross-orientation suppression. PLoS Comput Biol 9:e1002991
Anton-Erxleben, Katharina; Herrmann, Katrin; Carrasco, Marisa (2013) Independent effects of adaptation and attention on perceived speed. Psychol Sci 24:150-9
Grubb, Michael A; Behrmann, Marlene; Egan, Ryan et al. (2013) Endogenous spatial attention: evidence for intact functioning in adults with autism. Autism Res 6:108-18
Anton-Erxleben, Katharina; Carrasco, Marisa (2013) Attentional enhancement of spatial resolution: linking behavioural and neurophysiological evidence. Nat Rev Neurosci 14:188-200
Carandini, Matteo; Heeger, David J (2012) Normalization as a canonical neural computation. Nat Rev Neurosci 13:51-62
Brouwer, Gijs Joost; Heeger, David J (2011) Cross-orientation suppression in human visual cortex. J Neurophysiol 106:2108-19
Pestilli, Franco; Carrasco, Marisa; Heeger, David J et al. (2011) Attentional enhancement via selection and pooling of early sensory responses in human visual cortex. Neuron 72:832-46

Showing the most recent 10 out of 11 publications