What is the neural locus of visual attention? Here we show that the locus is not fixed but instead changes rapidly to match the spatial scale of task-relevant information in the current scene. To accomplish this, we obtained electrical, magnetic, and hemodynamic measures of attention from human subjects while they detected large-scale or small-scale targets within multiscale stimulus patterns. Subjects did not know the scale of the target before stimulus onset, and yet the neural locus of attention-related activity between 250 and 300 ms varied according to the scale of the target. Specifically, maximal attention-related activity spread from a high-level, relatively anterior visual area (the lateral occipital complex) for large-scale targets to include a lower-level, more posterior area (visual area V4) for small-scale targets. This rapid change indicates that the neural locus of attention in visual cortex is not static but is instead determined rapidly and dynamically by means of an interaction between top-down task information and local information about the current visual input.
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