When a visual stimulus suddenly appears, it captures attention, producing a transient improvement of performance on basic visual tasks. We investigate the effect of transient attention on stimulus representations in early visual areas using rapid event-related fMRI. Participants discriminated the orientation of one of two gratings preceded or followed by a nonpredictive peripheral cue. Compared to control conditions, precueing the target location improved performance and produced a larger fMRI response in corresponding retinotopic areas. This enhancement progressively increased from striate to extrastriate areas. Control conditions indicated that the enhanced fMRI response was not due to sensory summation of cue and target signals. Thus, an uninformative precue increases both perceptual performance and the concomitant stimulus-evoked activity in early visual areas. These results provide evidence regarding the retinotopically specific neural correlate for the effects of transient attention on early vision.
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