Spatial attention has long been postulated to act as a spotlight that increases the salience of visual stimuli at the attended location. We examined the effects of attention on the receptive fields of simple cells in primary visual cortex (V1) by training macaque monkeys to perform a task with two modes. In the attended mode, the stimuli relevant to the animal's task overlay the receptive field of the neuron being recorded. In the unattended mode, the animal was cued to attend to stimuli outside the receptive field of that neuron. The relevant stimulus, a colored pixel, was briefly presented within a white-noise stimulus, a flickering grid of black and white pixels. The receptive fields of the neurons were mapped by correlating spikes with the white-noise stimulus in both attended and unattended modes. We found that attention could cause significant modulation of the visually evoked response despite an absence of significant effects on the overall firing rates. On further examination of the relationship between the strength of the visual stimulation and the firing rate, we found that attention appears to cause multiplicative scaling of the visually evoked responses of simple cells, demonstrating that attention reaches back to the initial stages of visual cortical processing.
- Receptive field
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