Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Although psychophysical evidence for object-based attention has been reported, corresponding studies with event-related potentials (ERPs) are scarce. Here subjects were presented with perceptual fields containing two superimposed objects (transparent surfaces generated by two sets of dots in rigid rotation around fixation, each set of a different color and direction of motion) or only one object (the same dots but either at rest or all rotating in the same direction). Brief (150-msec) rectilinear displacements affected either of the sets at random ISIs of 350 to 550 msec. Attention was directed to one set of dots, guided by color, in order to discriminate the direction of their displacement. Motion-onset ERPs elicited by these displacements were compared for attended and unattended dots. When the perceptual field consisted of two objects, strong suppression of P1 and N1 was obtained in the ERPs associated with the unattended object. No suppression was found with the field containing a single object, although an enhanced selection negativity was found in ERPs associated with attended dots (selected by color). Since the two objects occupied the same region of visual space, the suppression of P1/N1 cannot be explained by the space-based mechanisms but is consistent with object-based attentional selection at early stages of vision. The results highlight the role of perceptual organization in enabling alternative attentional mechanisms.