Ignoring the elephant in the room: a neural circuit to downregulate salience.
Mevorach C., Hodsoll J., Allen H., Shalev L., Humphreys G.
How do we ignore stimuli that are salient but irrelevant when our task is to select a lower salient stimulus? Since bottom-up processes favor high saliency, detection of a low-salient target in the presence of highly salient distractors requires top-down attentional guidance. Previous studies have demonstrated that top-down attention can modulate perceptual processing and also that the control of attention is driven by frontoparietal regions. However, to date, there is no direct evidence on the cause and effect relationship between control regions and perceptual processing. Here, we report the first evidence demonstrating a neural circuit for the downregulation of salient distractors when a low-salient target is selected, combining brain imaging using functional magnetic resonance imaging with brain stimulation by transcranial magnetic stimulation. Using these combined techniques, we were able to identify a cause and effect relationship in the suppression of saliency, based on an interaction between the left intraparietal sulcus (IPS) and a region implicated in visual processing in our task (the left occipital pole). In particular, low-salient stimuli were selected by the left IPS suppressing early visual areas that would otherwise respond to a high-saliency distractor in the task. Apart from providing a first documentation of the neural circuit supporting selection by saliency, these data can be critical for understanding the underlying causes of problems in ignoring irrelevant salience that are found in both acquired and neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or autism).