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Attention and capacity limits in perception: A cellular metabolism account.

Bruckmaier, M; Tachtsidis, I; Phan, P; Lavie, N; (2020) Attention and capacity limits in perception: A cellular metabolism account. Journal of Neuroscience , Article JN-RM-2368-19. 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2368-19.2020. (In press). Green open access

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Abstract

Limits on perceptual capacity result in various phenomena of inattentional blindness. Here we propose a neurophysiological account attributing these perceptual capacity limits directly to limits on cerebral cellular metabolism. We hypothesized that overall cerebral energy supply remains constant, irrespective of mental task demand, and therefore an attention mechanism is required to regulate cellular metabolism levels in line with task demands. Increased perceptual load in a task (imposing a greater demand on neural computations) should thus result in increased metabolism underlying attended processing, and reduced metabolism mediating unattended processing. We tested this prediction measuring oxidation states of cytochrome c oxidase (oxCCO), an intracellular marker of cellular metabolism. Broadband near-infrared spectroscopy was used to record oxCCO levels from human visual cortex while participants (both sexes) performed a rapid sequential visual search task under either high perceptual load (complex feature-conjunction search) or low load (feature pop-out search). A task-irrelevant, peripheral checkerboard was presented on a random half of trials. Our findings showed that oxCCO levels in visual cortex regions responsive to the attended-task stimuli were increased in high versus low perceptual load, while oxCCO levels related to unattended processing were significantly reduced. A negative temporal correlation of these load effects further supported our metabolism trade-off account. These results demonstrate an attentional compensation mechanism that regulates cellular metabolism levels according to processing demands. Moreover, they provide novel evidence for the widely-held stipulation that overall cerebral metabolism levels remain constant irrespective of mental task demand and establish a neurophysiological account for capacity limits in perception.Significance StatementWe investigated whether capacity limits in perception can be explained by the effects of attention on the allocation of limited cellular metabolic energy for perceptual processing. We measured the oxidation state of cytochrome c oxidase, an intracellular measure of metabolism, in human visual cortex during task performance. The results showed increased levels of cellular metabolism associated with attended processing and reduced levels of metabolism underlying unattended processing when the task was more demanding. A temporal correlation between these effects supported an attention-directed metabolism trade-off. These findings support an account for inattentional blindness grounded in cellular biochemistry. They also provide novel evidence for the claim that cerebral processing is limited by a constant energy supply, which thus requires attentional regulation.

Type: Article
Title: Attention and capacity limits in perception: A cellular metabolism account.
Location: United States
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2368-19.2020
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2368-19.2020
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2020 Bruckmaier et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium provided that the original work is properly attributed.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > Dept of Med Phys and Biomedical Eng
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10107704
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