The time course of feature-selective attention inside and outside the focus of spatial attention

Søren K. Andersen*, Steven A. Hillyard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Research on attentional selection of stimulus features has yielded seemingly contradictory results. On the one hand, many experiments in humans and animals have observed a "global" facilitation of attended features across the entire visual field, even when spatial attention is focused on a single location. On the other hand, several event-related potential studies in humans reported that attended features are enhanced at the attended location only. The present experiment demonstrates that these conflicting results can be explained by differences in the timing of attentional allocation inside and outside the spatial focus of attention. Participants attended to fields of either red or blue randomly moving dots on either the left or right side of fixation with the task of detecting brief coherent motion targets. Recordings of steady-state visual evoked potentials elicited by the flickering stimuli allowed concurrent measurement of the time course of feature-selective attention in visual cortex on both the attended and the unattended sides. The onset of feature-selective attentional modulation on the attended side occurred around 150 ms earlier than on the unattended side. This finding that feature-selective attention is not spatially global from the outset but extends to unattended locations after a temporal delay resolves previous contradictions between studies finding global versus hierarchical selection of features and provides insight into the fundamental relationship between feature-based and location-based (spatial) attention mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2309975121
Issue number16
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 16. Apr 2024


  • attention
  • feature-based attention
  • frequency-tagging
  • steady-state visual evoked potentials
  • vision


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