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Using multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA), we studied how distributed visual representations in human occipitotemporal cortex are modulated by attention and link their modulation to concurrent activity in frontal and parietal cortex. We detected similar occipitotemporal patterns during a simple visuoperceptual task and an attention-to-working-memory task in which one or two stimuli were cued before being presented among other pictures. Pattern strength varied from highest to lowest when the stimulus was the exclusive focus of attention, a conjoint focus, and when it was potentially distracting. Although qualitatively similar effects were seen inside regions relatively specialized for the stimulus category and outside, the former were quantitatively stronger. By regressing occipitotemporal pattern strength against activity elsewhere in the brain, we identified frontal and parietal areas exerting top-down control over, or reading information out from, distributed patterns in occipitotemporal cortex. Their interactions with patterns inside regions relatively specialized for that stimulus category were higher than those with patterns outside those regions and varied in strength as a function of the attentional condition. One area, the frontal operculum, was distinguished by selectively interacting with occipitotemporal patterns only when they were the focus of attention. There was no evidence that any frontal or parietal area actively inhibited occipitotemporal representations even when they should be ignored and were suppressed. Using MVPA to decode information within these frontal and parietal areas showed that they contained information about attentional context and/or readout information from occipitotemporal cortex to guide behavior but that frontal regions lacked information about category identity.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





16443 - 16458


Adult, Attention, Brain Mapping, Female, Frontal Lobe, Humans, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Memory, Short-Term, Parietal Lobe, Psychomotor Performance, Visual Pathways, Visual Perception