Understanding visual attention with RAGNAROC: A reflexive attention gradient through neural AttRactOr competition

Psychological Review 127 (6):1163-1198 (2020)
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A quintessential challenge for any perceptual system is the need to focus on task-relevant information without being blindsided by unexpected, yet important information. The human visual system incorporates several solutions to this challenge, one of which is a reflexive covert attention system that is rapidly responsive to both the physical salience and the task-relevance of new information. This paper presents a model that simulates behavioral and neural correlates of reflexive attention as the product of brief neural attractor states that are formed across the visual hierarchy when attention is engaged. Such attractors emerge from an attentional gradient distributed over a population of topographically organized neurons and serve to focus processing at one or more locations in the visual field, while inhibiting the processing of lower priority information. The model moves towards a resolution of key debates about the nature of reflexive attention, such as whether it is parallel or serial, and whether suppression effects are distributed in a spatial surround, or selectively at the location of distractors. Most importantly, the model develops a framework for understanding the neural mechanisms of visual attention as a spatiotopic decision process within a hierarchy and links them to observable correlates such as accuracy, reaction time, and the N2pc and PD components of the EEG. This last contribution is the most crucial for repairing the disconnect that exists between our understanding of behavioral and neural correlates of attention.



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