Contextual knowledge configures attentional control networks.

Joy J Geng
Joy J Geng
University of California
United States

J Neurosci 2011 Dec;31(49):18026-35

Center for Mind and Brain, University of California Davis, Davis, California 95616, USA.

Contextual cues are predictive and provide behaviorally relevant information; they are not the main objective of the current task but can make behavior more efficient. Using fMRI, we investigated the brain networks involved in representing contextual information and translating it into an attentional control signal. Human subjects performed a visual search task for a low-contrast target accompanied by a single non-target that was either perceptually similar or more salient (i.e., higher contrast). Shorter reaction times (RTs) and higher accuracy were found on salient trials, suggesting that the salient item was rapidly identified as a non-target and immediately acts as a spatial "anti-cue" to reorient attention to the target. The relative saliency of the non-target determined BOLD responses in the left temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). IFG correlated with RT specifically on salient non-target trials. In contrast, bilateral dorsal frontoparietal regions [including the frontal eye fields (FEFs)] were correlated with RT in all conditions. Effective connectivity analyses using dynamic causal modeling found an excitatory pathway from TPJ to IFG to FEF, suggesting that this was the pathway by which the contextual cue was translated into an attentional control signal that facilitated behavior. Additionally, the connection from FEF to TPJ was negatively modulated during target-similar trials, consistent with the inhibition of TPJ by dorsal attentional control regions during top-down serial visual search. We conclude that left TPJ and IFG form a sensory-driven network that integrates contextual knowledge with ongoing sensory information to provide an attentional control signal to FEF.

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