Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

The mechanisms of attention prioritize sensory input for efficient perceptual processing. Influential theories suggest that attentional biases are mediated via preparatory activation of task-relevant perceptual representations in visual cortex, but the neural evidence for a preparatory coding model of attention remains incomplete. In this experiment, we tested core assumptions underlying a preparatory coding model for attentional bias. Exploiting multivoxel pattern analysis of functional neuroimaging data obtained during a non-spatial attention task, we examined the locus, time-course, and functional significance of shape-specific preparatory attention in the human brain. Following an attentional cue, yet before the onset of a visual target, we observed selective activation of target-specific neural subpopulations within shape-processing visual cortex (lateral occipital complex). Target-specific modulation of baseline activity was sustained throughout the duration of the attention trial and the degree of target specificity that characterized preparatory activation patterns correlated with perceptual performance. We conclude that top-down attention selectively activates target-specific neural codes, providing a competitive bias favoring task-relevant representations over competing representations distributed within the same subregion of visual cortex.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





19569 - 19574


Adolescent, Adult, Attention, Female, Humans, Pattern Recognition, Visual, Visual Cortex, Young Adult