Attention during natural vision warps semantic representation across the human brain
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3381
Little is known about how attention changes the cortical representation of sensory information in humans. On the basis of neurophysiological evidence, we hypothesized that attention causes tuning changes to expand the representation of attended stimuli at the cost of unattended stimuli. To investigate this issue, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure how semantic representation changed during visual search for different object categories in natural movies. We found that many voxels across occipito-temporal and fronto-parietal cortex shifted their tuning toward the attended category. These tuning shifts expanded the representation of the attended category and of semantically related, but unattended, categories, and compressed the representation of categories that were semantically dissimilar to the target. Attentional warping of semantic representation occurred even when the attended category was not present in the movie; thus, the effect was not a target-detection artifact. These results suggest that attention dynamically alters visual representation to optimize processing of behaviorally relevant objects during natural vision.