Visual attention

Karla K. Evans, Todd S. Horowitz, Piers Howe, Roccardo Pedersini, Ester Reijnen, Yair Pinto, Yoana Kuzmova, Jeremy M. Wolfe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A typical visual scene we encounter in everyday life is complex and filled with a huge amount of perceptual information. The term, 'visual attention' describes a set of mechanisms that limit some processing to a subset of incoming stimuli. Attentional mechanisms shape what we see and what we can act upon. They allow for concurrent selection of some (preferably, relevant) information and inhibition of other information. This selection permits the reduction of complexity and informational overload. Selection can be determined both by the 'bottom-up' saliency of information from the environment and by the 'top-down' state and goals of the perceiver. Attentional effects can take the form of modulating or enhancing the selected information. A central role for selective attention is to enable the 'binding' of selected information into unified and coherent representations of objects in the outside world. In the overview on visual attention presented here we review the mechanisms and consequences of selection and inhibition over space and time. We examine theoretical, behavioral and neurophysiologic work done on visual attention. We also discuss the relations between attention and other cognitive processes such as automaticity and awareness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-514
Number of pages12
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2011

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