Orienting attention to semantic categories.
Cristescu TC., Devlin JT., Nobre AC.
We investigated the ability to orient attention to a complex, non-perceptual attribute of stimuli-semantic category. Behavioral consequences and neural correlates of semantic orienting were revealed and compared with those of spatial orienting, using event-related functional magnetic-resonance imaging. Semantic orienting significantly shortened response times to identify word stimuli, showing that it is possible to focus attention on non-perceptual attributes of stimuli to enhance behavioral performance. Semantic-orienting cues engaged parietal and frontal areas that were also involved in spatial orienting, but in addition engaged brain areas associated with semantic analysis of words, such as the left anterior inferior frontal cortex. These findings show that attentional orienting selectively engages brain areas with functional specialization for the predicted attributes. They also support the existence of a core frontoparietal network, which controls attentional orienting in speeded response tasks independently of the type of expectations, interacting with task-relevant functionally specialized areas to optimize perception and action.