Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Attending to the location of an expected visual target can lead to anticipatory activations in spatiotopic occipital cortex, emerging before target onset. But less is known about how the brain may prepare for a distractor at a known location remote from the target. In a psychophysical experiment, we found that trial-to-trial advance knowledge about the presence of a distractor in the target-opposite hemifield significantly reduced its behavioral cost. In a subsequent functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment with similar task and stimuli, we found anticipatory activations in the occipital cortex contralateral to the expected distractor, but no additional target modulation, when participants were given advance information about a distractor's subsequent presence and location. Several attention-related control structures (frontal eye fields and superior parietal cortex) were active during attentional preparation for all trials, whereas the left superior prefrontal and right angular gyri were additionally activated when a distractor was anticipated. The right temporoparietal junction showed stronger functional coupling with occipital regions during preparation for trials with an isolated target than for trials with a distractor expected. These results show that anticipation of a visual distractor at a known location, remote from the target, can lead to (1) a reduction in the behavioral cost of that distractor, (2) preparatory modulation of the occipital cortex contralateral to the location of the expected distractor, and (3) anticipatory activation of distinct parietal and frontal brain structures. These findings indicate that specific components of preparatory visual attention may be devoted to minimizing the impact of distractors, not just to enhancements of target processing.