Investigations of attentional processing in parietal and occipital human cortical regions with magnetoencephalography

  • Vanessa J. Parson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Attention defines our mental ability to select and respond to stimuli, internal or external, on the basis of behavioural goals in the presence of competing, behaviourally irrelevant, stimuli. The frontal and parietal cortices are generally agreed to be involved with attentional processing, in what is termed the 'fronto-parietal' network. The left parietal cortex has been seen as the site for temporal attentional processing, whereas the right parietal cortex has been seen as the site for spatial attentional processing. There is much debate about when the modulation of the primary visual cortex occurs, whether it is modulated in the feedforward sweep of processing or modulated by feedback projections from extrastriate and higher cortical areas.
MEG and psychophysical measurements were used to look at spatially selective covert attention. Dual-task and cue-based paradigms were used. It was found that the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), in particular the SPL and IPL, was the main site of activation during these experiments, and that the left parietal lobe was activated more strongly than the right parietal lobe throughout. The levels of activation in both parietal and occipital areas were modulated in accordance with attentional demands.
It is likely that spatially selective covert attention is dominated by the left parietal lobe, and that this takes the form of the proposed sensory-perceptual lateralization within the parietal lobes. Another form of lateralization is proposed, termed the motor-processing lateralization, the side of dominance being determined by handedness, being reversed in left- relative to right-handers. In terms of the modulation of the primary visual cortex, it was found that it is unlikely that V1 is modulated initially; rather the modulation takes the form of feedback from higher extrastriate and parietal areas. This fits with the idea of preattentive visual processing, a commonly accepted idea which, in itself, prevents the concept of initial modulation of V1.
Date of AwardJan 2003
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorIan E Holliday (Supervisor)


  • attentional processing
  • parietal and occipital human cortical regions
  • magnetoencephalography

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