Background: Selective visual attention is the process by which the visual system enhances behaviorally relevant stimuli and filters out others. Visual attention is thought to operate through a cortical mechanism known as biased competition. Representations of stimuli within cortical visual areas compete such that they mutually suppress each others' neural response. Competition increases with stimulus proximity and can be biased in favor of one stimulus (over another) as a function of stimulus significance, salience, or expectancy. Though there is considerable evidence of biased competition within the human visual system, the dynamics of the process remain unknown. Methodology/Principal Findings: Here, we used scalp-recorded electroencephalography (EEG) to examine neural correlates of biased competition in the human visual system. In two experiments, subjects performed a task requiring them to either simultaneously identify two targets (Experiment 1) or discriminate one target while ignoring a decoy (Experiment 2). Competition was manipulated by altering the spatial separation between target(s) and/or decoy. Both experimental tasks should induce competition between stimuli. However, only the task of Experiment 2 should invoke a strong bias in favor of the target (over the decoy). The amplitude of two lateralized components of the event-related potential, the N2pc and Ptc, mirrored these predictions. N2pc amplitude increased with increasing stimulus separation in Experiments 1 and 2. However, Ptc amplitude varied only in Experiment 2, becoming more positive with decreased spatial separation. Conclusions/Significance: These results suggest that N2pc and Ptc components may index distinct processes of biased competition-N2pc reflecting visual competitive interactions and Ptc reflecting a bias in processing necessary to individuate task-relevant stimuli. © 2010 Hilimire et al.
Hilimire M.R., Mounts J.R.W., Parks N.A., Corballis P.M. (2010). PLoS ONE, 5, 1-11 doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012677