Repeating a stimulus generally leads to a decreased response in neural activity compared to that for novel items. This neural attenuation provides a marker for stimulus-specific perceptual encoding and memory that can be detected using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Although previously assumed to occur automatically whenever a stimulus is repeated, recent studies have begun to show that the repetition attenuation effect is task-specific and modulated by attention. Here, we demonstrate that attention is crucial for obtaining neural attenuation even after extensive stimulus repetitions. Furthermore, the effect of attention on attenuation is anatomically dissociable for stimuli that have relatively segregated neural representations in high-level perceptual cortex. To manipulate attention, we used overlapping scene and face images, and asked subjects to attend to either category. In a scene-sensitive cortical region known as the parahippocampal place area (PPA), significant attenuation in the fMRI BOLD signal was observed for the attended repeated scenes (relative to attended novel scenes), while no attenuation was observed for ignored repeated scenes or attended repeated faces against their respective novel image baselines. Conversely, in the face-sensitive region known as the fusiform face area (FFA), significant attenuation was observed for attended repeated faces, but not for ignored repeated faces or attended repeated scenes. An additional control experiment ruled out alternative explanations based on global signal level reductions due to inattention. Thus, attention actively governed when neuronal activity was attenuated to repeated perceptual input, and such attenuation was specific to the cortical regions that actively represent the attended category of stimuli.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank Laura Montague for assistance in data collection. This research was supported by a Discovery Grant from Vanderbilt University, and by National Institutes of Health Grant EY014193.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Clinical Neurology
- Developmental Biology