The role of spatial attention in the selection of real and illusory objects
Selective attention may be flexibly directed toward particular locations in the visual field (spatial attention) or to entire object configurations (object-based attention). A key question is whether spatial attention plays a direct role in the selection of objects, perhaps by spreading its facilitatory influence throughout the boundaries of an object. We studied the relationship between spatial and object-based attention in a design in which subjects attended to brief offsets of one corner of a real or illusory square form. Object-selective attention was indexed by differences in event-related potential (ERP) amplitudes and blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) activations to unattended corner offsets in conditions in which the objects were intact versus fragmented or absent. This design ensured that object-based attention effects were not an artifact of attention being guided by simple directional cues such as parallel lines, which may have occurred in previous studies. Both space-based and object-based attention were associated with enhanced negative ERPs (N1 component at 140 - 180 ms) that were colocalized with BOLD activations in lateral occipital cortex (LOC). These results provide physiological evidence that directing spatial attention to one part of an object (whether real or illusory) facilitates the processing of the entire object at the level of the LOC and thus contributes directly to object-based selective attention.