Sustained Multifocal Attentional Enhancement of Stimulus Processing in Early Visual Areas Predicts Tracking Performance
Keeping track of multiple moving objects is an essential ability of visual perception. However, the mechanisms underlying this ability are not well understood. We instructed human observers to track five or seven independent randomly moving target objects amid identical nontargets and recorded steady-state visual evoked potentials (SSVEPs) elicited by these stimuli. Visual processing of moving targets, as assessed by SSVEP amplitudes, was continuously facilitated relative to the processing of identical but irrelevant nontargets. The cortical sources of this enhancement were located to areas including early visual cortex V1–V3 and motion-sensitive area MT, suggesting that the sustained multifocal attentional enhancement during multiple object tracking already operates at hierarchically early stages of visual processing. Consistent with this interpretation, the magnitude of attentional facilitation during tracking in a single trial predicted the speed of target identification at the end of the trial. Together, these findings demonstrate that attention can flexibly and dynamically facilitate the processing of multiple independent object locations in early visual areas and thereby allow for tracking of these objects.