Normalization governs attentional modulation within human visual cortex

December 11th, 2019

Nature Communications (2019)
Ilona Bloem & Sam Ling

Although attention is known to increase the gain of visuocortical responses, its underlying neural computations remain unclear. Here, we use fMRI to test the hypothesis that a neural population’s ability to be modulated by attention is dependent on divisive normalization. To do so, we leverage the feature-tuned properties of normalization and find that visuocortical responses to stimuli sharing features normalize each other more strongly. Comparing these normalization measures to measures of attentional modulation, we demonstrate that sub- populations which exhibit stronger normalization also exhibit larger attentional benefits. In a converging experiment, we reveal that attentional benefits are greatest when a subpopulation is forced into a state of stronger normalization. Taken together, these results suggest that the degree to which a subpopulation exhibits normalization plays a role in dictating its potential for attentional benefits.

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