Online decoding of object-based attention using real-time fMRI



Visual attention is used to selectively filter relevant information depending on current task demands and goals. Visual attention is called object-based attention when it is directed to coherent forms or objects in the visual field. This study used real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging for moment-to-moment decoding of attention to spatially overlapped objects belonging to two different object categories. First, a whole-brain classifier was trained on pictures of faces and places. Subjects then saw transparently overlapped pictures of a face and a place, and attended to only one of them while ignoring the other. The category of the attended object, face or place, was decoded on a scan-by-scan basis using the previously trained decoder. The decoder performed at 77.6% accuracy indicating that despite competing bottom-up sensory input, object-based visual attention biased neural patterns towards that of the attended object. Furthermore, a comparison between different classification approaches indicated that the representation of faces and places is distributed rather than focal. This implies that real-time decoding of object-based attention requires a multivariate decoding approach that can detect these distributed patterns of cortical activity.