Visual attention may be voluntarily directed to particular locations or features (voluntary control), or it may be captured by salient stimuli, such as the abrupt appearance of a new perceptual object (stimulus-driven control). Most often, however, the deployment of attention is the result of a dynamic interplay between voluntary attentional control settings (e.g., based on prior knowledge about a target's location or color) and the degree to which stimuli in the visual scene match these voluntary control settings. Consequently, nontarget items in the scene that share a defining feature with the target of visual search can capture attention, a phenomenon termed contingent attentional capture. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to show that attentional capture by target-colored distractors is accompanied by increased cortical activity in corresponding regions of retinotopically organized visual cortex. Concurrent activation in the temporo-parietal junction and ventral frontal cortex suggests that these regions coordinate voluntary and stimulus-driven attentional control settings to determine which stimuli effectively compete for attention.
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