Attention, awareness, and the right temporoparietal junction

Andrew I. Wilterson, Samuel A. Nastase, Branden J. Bio, Arvid Guterstam, Michael S.A. Graziano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The attention schema theory posits a specific relationship between subjective awareness and attention, in which awareness is the control model that the brain uses to aid in the endogenous control of attention. In previous experiments, we developed a behavioral paradigm in human subjects to manipulate awareness and attention. The paradigm involved a visual cue that could be used to guide attention to a target stimulus. In task 1, subjects were aware of the cue, but not aware that it provided information about the target. The cue measurably drew exogenous attention to itself. In addition, implicitly, the subjects’ endogenous attention mechanism used the cue to help shift attention to the target. In task 2, subjects were no longer aware of the cue. The cue still measurably drew exogenous attention to itself, yet without awareness of the cue, the subjects’ endogenous control mechanism was no longer able to use the cue to control attention. Thus, the control of attention depended on awareness. Here, we tested the two tasks while scanning brain activity in human volunteers. We predicted that the right temporoparietal junction (TPJ) would be active in relation to the process in which awareness helps control attention. This prediction was confirmed. The right TPJ was active in relation to the effect of the cue on attention in task 1; it was not measurably active in task 2. The difference was significant. In our interpretation, the right TPJ is involved in an interaction in which awareness permits the control of attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2026099118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume118
Issue number25
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 22 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

Keywords

  • Attention | awareness | temporoparietal junction | predictive modeling | fMRI

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