DOI: 10.1111/psyp.14507 ISSN: 0048-5772

Attention modulates early visual processing: An association between subjective contrast perception and early C1 ERP component

Wang‐Nan Pan, Yu‐Wan Zhao, Zi‐Xi Luo, Yue Chen, Yong‐Chun Cai
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Neurology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • General Neuroscience


The question of whether spatial attention can modulate initial afferent activity in area V1, as measured by the earliest visual event‐related potential (ERP) component “C1”, is still the subject of debate. Because attention always enhances behavioral performance, previous research has focused on finding evidence of attention‐related enhancements in visual neural responses. However, recent psychophysical studies revealed a complex picture of attention's influence on visual perception: attention amplifies the perceived contrast of low‐contrast stimuli while dampening the perceived contrast of high‐contrast stimuli. This evidence suggests that attention may not invariably augment visual neural responses but could instead exert inhibitory effects under certain circumstances. Whether this bi‐directional modulation of attention also manifests in C1 and whether the modulation of C1 underpins the attentional influence on contrast perception remain unknown. To address these questions, we conducted two experiments (N = 67 in total) by employing a combination of behavioral and ERP methodologies. Our results did not unveil a uniform attentional enhancement or attenuation effect of C1 across all subjects. However, an intriguing correlation between the attentional effects of C1 and contrast appearance for high‐contrast stimuli did emerge, revealing an association between attentional modulation of C1 and the attentional modulation of contrast appearance. This finding offers new insights into the relationship between attention, perceptual experience, and early visual neural processing, suggesting that the attentional effect on subjective visual perception could be mediated by the attentional modulation of the earliest visual cortical response.

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