December 2022
Volume 22, Issue 14
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   December 2022
Isolating the neural substrates of visually guided orienting of attention in healthy humans
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • John McDonald
    Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada
  • Daniel Tay
    Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada
  • David Prime
    Douglas College, New Westminster, BC, Canada
  • Steven Hillyard
    University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California
    Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, Magdeburg, Germany
  • Footnotes
    Acknowledgements  Funded by NSERC and the Canada Research Chairs program.
Journal of Vision December 2022, Vol.22, 3743. doi:
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      John McDonald, Daniel Tay, David Prime, Steven Hillyard; Isolating the neural substrates of visually guided orienting of attention in healthy humans. Journal of Vision 2022;22(14):3743.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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The study of covert orienting has been an important impetus for the field of cognitive neuroscience. Seminal reaction-time studies demonstrated that a suddenly appearing visual stimulus attracts attention involuntarily, but the neural processes associated with visually guided attention orienting have been difficult to isolate because they are intertwined with sensory processes that trigger the orienting. Here, we developed a framework for disentangling orienting activity from purely sensory activities using scalp recordings of event-related potentials (ERPs). The working hypothesis was that sensory processing of a lateral abrupt onset would drive timing differences between visual evoked activities (e.g., P1 and N1 peaks) recorded contralateral and ipsilateral to the stimulus (because of projections from eye to contralateral visual cortex and the callosal projections connecting the two brain hemispheres), while covert orienting to the stimulus would drive amplitude differences between contralateral and ipsilateral ERPs. We tested this hypothesis by comparing ERPs elicited by lateral visual stimuli under two conditions: one in which participants discriminated a feature of the lateral stimulus (attend lateral), and one in which participant responded to some other, non-lateralized stimulus (attend other). It was presumed that covert orienting would be necessary in the attend-lateral condition but would be minimized in the attend-other condition. We identified an early positive ERP deflection over the ipsilateral visual cortex that was associated with the covert orienting of visual attention. Across five experiments, this ipsilateral visual orienting activity (VOA) was linked with behavioral measures of orienting (i.e., was larger when the stimulus was detected rapidly than when it was detected more slowly), and its onset occurred prior to unrestrained eye movements towards the targets. The VOA appears to be a specific neural index of the visually guided orienting of attention to a stimulus that appears abruptly in an otherwise uncluttered visual field.


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