Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Spatial attention must adjust around an object of interest in a manner that reflects the object's size on the retina as well as the proximity of distracting objects, a process often guided by nonspatial features. This study used ERPs to investigate how quickly the size of this type of “attentional window” can adjust around a fixated target object defined by its color and whether this variety of attention influences the feedforward flow of subsequent information through the visual system. The task involved attending either to a circular region at fixation or to a surrounding annulus region, depending on which region contained an attended color. The region containing the attended color varied randomly from trial to trial, so the spatial distribution of attention had to be adjusted on each trial. We measured the initial sensory ERP response elicited by an irrelevant probe stimulus that appeared in one of the two regions at different times after task display onset. This allowed us to measure the amount of time required to adjust spatial attention on the basis of the location of the task-relevant feature. We found that the probe-elicited sensory response was larger when the probe occurred within the region of the attended dots, and this effect required a delay of approximately 175 msec between the onset of the task display and the onset of the probe. Thus, the window of attention is rapidly adjusted around the point of fixation in a manner that reflects the spatial extent of a task-relevant stimulus, leading to changes in the feedforward flow of subsequent information through the visual system.