• Event-related potentials;
  • Selective attention;
  • Vertical meridian;
  • Horizontal meridian


In the first experiment, 48 subjects carried out a visual spatial attention task. Stimuli were presented at the vertical meridian, either above or below a fixation dot, and the subjects were instructed to attend to one of these stimulus positions and ignore the other position. In three different conditions, the distances between stimulus positions and fixation were 0.5°, 0.9°, and 1.3°. Subjects searched for the presence of prememorized target letters at the attended location: memory load was one or four items in different conditions. The P1/N1 enhancement typically found on the horizontal dimension was not observed on the vertical dimension. Instead, a positive shift of the attended compared with the unattended stimuli was found, which was most prominent at anterior electrodes. This positivity showed effects of the distance manipulation. The N2b-P3a effect of attention and the effect of memory load (search negativity) normally present in this kind of selective search task were also found. Reaction times were faster when attention was directed above fixation than when it was directed below fixation. The event-related potential data suggested that this difference could be attributed to a more efficient neglecting of irrelevant stimuli presented below fixation. In Experiment 2, we examined whether the absence of the P1/N1 enhancement as the result of spatial attention in Experiment 1 could be attributed to (a) the presentation of stimuli along the vertical meridian instead of along the horizontal meridian, (b) the use of midline electrodes instead of lateralized electrodes, and (c) the relatively small spatial separation between the relevant and irrelevant stimuli. Twelve subjects searched for the presence of a single target letter at an attended position in three different conditions. In two of the conditions the letters were presented to the left or right of fixation. The distance between fixation and the stimulus positions was 1.3° in one of these conditions and 3° in the other condition. In the third condition, the stimuli were presented at 3° above or below fixation. In all three conditions effects similar to those in Experiment 1 were observed. In addition, in all three conditions an enhancement of the P1 and N1 components was found at two lateral occipitotemporal electrodes.