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Positron emission tomography (PET) was used to examine two questions: (i) which structures of the intact human brain change their activity with the direction of attention to left or right visual field; and (ii) how does activity in these structures, and in parietal cortex in particular, depend on the frequency of attentional shifts? Subjects were required to discriminate the orientation of peripheral gratings. The two main experimental variables were the attended hemifield (left or right) and the proportion of trials requiring a shift within that hemifield (20% or 80%). A detection control condition was also included. Behaviourally, subjects were less accurate and significantly slower when a trial required a shift than when it did not. Ventral and lateral occipital areas showed significantly higher blood flow levels contralateral to the direction of attention. Replicating previous work, there was also a significant main effect of the direction of attention in left lateral prefrontal cortex: blood flow levels were higher during leftward attention in comparison both to baseline and to rightward attention. This left frontal effect reached significance in single subjects in whom several activation sites could be distinguished within left middle and inferior frontal gyrus. Right and left parietal cortex were activated during both left- and right-field attention conditions, with a tendency for higher activity levels when attention was directed contralaterally. Contrary to the experimental hypothesis, however, parietal regions were not activated differentially by high versus low numbers of attentional shifts. The current experiment confirms that left frontal convexity is sensitive to manipulations of the direction of visuospatial attention. The results do not indicate a specific role of parietal cortex in attentional shifting.

Original publication




Journal article


Cereb Cortex

Publication Date





706 - 713


Adult, Attention, Brain, Brain Mapping, Cerebrovascular Circulation, Cues, Discrimination, Psychological, Eye Movements, Frontal Lobe, Functional Laterality, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Parietal Lobe, Photic Stimulation, Tomography, Emission-Computed, Visual Fields