Flexible top-down modulation in human ventral temporal cortex

Ru Yuan Zhang, Kendrick Kay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Visual neuroscientists have long characterized attention as inducing a scaling or additive effect on fixed parametric functions describing neural responses (e.g., contrast response functions). Here, we instead propose that top-down effects are more complex and manifest in ways that depend not only on attention but also other cognitive processes involved in executing a task. To substantiate this theory, we analyze fMRI responses in human ventral temporal cortex (VTC) in a study where stimulus eccentricity and cognitive task are varied. We find that as stimuli are presented farther into the periphery, bottom-up stimulus-driven responses decline but top-down attentional enhancement increases substantially. This disproportionate enhancement of weak responses cannot be easily explained by conventional models of attention. Furthermore, we find that attentional effects depend on the specific cognitive task performed by the subject, indicating the influence of additional cognitive processes other than attention (e.g., decision-making). The effects we observe replicate in an independent experiment from the same study, and also generalize to a separate study involving different stimulus manipulations (contrast and phase coherence). Our results suggest that a quantitative understanding of top-down modulation requires more nuanced characterization of the multiple cognitive factors involved in completing a perceptual task.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number116964
StatePublished - Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank S. Engel for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by NIH Grants P41 EB015894 and P30 NS076408 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors


  • Attention
  • Bottom-up processing
  • Fusiform face area
  • Human ventral temporal cortex
  • Top-down processing

Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR) tags

  • BFC
  • P41


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