Attention is a common but highly complex term associated with a large number of distinct behavioral and perceptual phenomena. In the brain, attention-related changes in neuronal activity are observed in widespread structures. The many distinct behavioral and neuronal phenomena related to attention suggest that it might be subdivided into components corresponding to distinct biological mechanisms. Recent neurophysiological studies in monkeys have isolated behavioral changes related to attention along the 2 indices of signal detection theory and found that these 2 behavioral changes are associated with distinct neuronal changes in different brain areas. These results support the view that attention is made up of distinct neurobiological mechanisms.
Visual attention is associated with neuronal changes across the brain, and these widespread signals are generally assumed to underlie a unitary mechanism of attention. However, using signal detection theory, attention-related effects on performance can be partitioned into changes in either the subject's criterion or sensitivity. Neuronal modulations associated with only sensitivity changes were previously observed in visual cortex, raising questions about which structures mediate attention-related changes in criterion and whether individual neurons are involved in multiple components of attention. Here, we recorded from monkey lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) and found that, in contrast to visual cortex, neurons in LPFC changed their firing rates, pairwise correlation, and Fano factor when subjects changed either their criterion or their sensitivity. These results indicate that attention-related neuronal modulations in separate brain regions are not a monolithic signal and instead can be linked to distinct behavioral changes.
Neuronal signals related to visual attention are found in widespread brain regions, and these signals are generally assumed to participate in a common mechanism of attention. However, the behavioral effects of attention in detection can be separated into two distinct components: spatially selective shifts in either the criterion or sensitivity of the subject. Here we show that a paradigm used by many single-neuron studies of attention conflates behavioral changes in the subject's criterion and sensitivity. Then, using a task designed to dissociate these two components, we found that multiple aspects of attention-related neuronal modulations in area V4 of monkey visual cortex corresponded to behavioral shifts in sensitivity, but not criterion. This result suggests that separate components of attention are associated with signals in different brain regions and that attention is not a unitary process in the brain, but instead consists of distinct neurobiological mechanisms.