Extinguishing Exogenous Attention via Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Antonio Fernández, Marisa Carrasco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Orienting covert exogenous (involuntary) attention to a target location improves performance in many visual tasks [1, 2]. It is unknown whether early visual cortical areas are necessary for this improvement. To establish a causal link between these areas and attentional modulations, we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to briefly alter cortical excitability and determine whether early visual areas mediate the effect of exogenous attention on performance. Observers performed an orientation discrimination task. After a peripheral valid, neutral, or invalid cue, two cortically magnified gratings were presented, one in the stimulated region and the other in the symmetric region in the opposite hemifield. Observers received two successive TMS pulses around their occipital pole while the stimuli were presented. Shortly after, a response cue indicated the grating whose orientation observers had to discriminate. The response cue either matched—target stimulated—or did not match—distractor stimulated—the stimulated side. Grating contrast was varied to measure contrast response functions (CRF) for all combinations of attention and TMS conditions. When the distractor was stimulated, exogenous attention yielded response gain—performance benefits in the valid-cue condition and costs in the invalid-cue condition compared with the neutral condition at the high contrast levels. Crucially, when the target was stimulated, this response gain was eliminated. Therefore, TMS extinguished the effect of exogenous attention. These results establish a causal link between early visual areas and the modulatory effect of exogenous attention on performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4078-4084.e3
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 19 2020


  • TMS
  • attention
  • contrast sensitivity
  • covert exogenous attention
  • early visual areas
  • occipital cortex
  • response gain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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