Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Behavioral studies indicate that subjects are able to divide attention between multiple streams of information at different locations. However, it is still unclear to what extent the observed costs reflect processes specifically associated with spatial attention, versus more general interference due the concurrent monitoring of multiple streams of stimuli. Here we used a factorial design to disentangle the correlates of location- versus category-based selection processes during fMRI. In all conditions, participants were presented with two overlapping visual stimuli (red shapes and green shapes) in each hemifield. In different blocks, subjects either: (1) attended to one single stimulus category, red shapes or green shapes, in one hemifield; (2) attended to both stimulus categories in the same hemifield; (3) attended to one single stimulus category, but monitoring both hemifields at the same time; or (4) attended to one stimulus category in one hemifield, and the other category in the opposite hemifield. The behavioral data showed the expected costs of dividing spatial attention across the two hemifields, and the cost of monitoring two stimulus categories versus one category. The imaging data revealed activation of a dorsal fronto-parietal network, both for dividing spatial attention and for monitoring multiple stimulus categories. However, unlike behavioral data, the imaging results also showed a significant interaction between location- and category-based attention within the same network. This demonstrates that the fronto-parietal cortex engages in both of these selective attention functions, and that a mere increase in task difficulty cannot explain colocalization of these processes. We conclude that, under conditions of multiple streams monitoring, fronto-parietal regions control location- and category-based attentional selection.