Occipital TMS at phosphene detection threshold captures attention automatically

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Strong stimuli may capture attention automatically, suggesting that attentional selection is determined primarily by physical stimulus properties. The mechanisms underlying capture remain controversial, in particular, whether feedforward subcortical processes are its main source. Also, it remains unclear whether only physical stimulus properties determine capture strength. Here, we demonstrate strong capture in the absence of feedforward input to subcortical structures such as the superior colliculus, by using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over occipital visual cortex as an attention cue. This implies that the feedforward sweep through subcortex is not necessary for capture to occur but rather provides an additional source of capture. Furthermore, seen cues captured attention more strongly than (physically identical) unseen cues, suggesting that the momentary state of the nervous system modulates attentional selection. In summary, we demonstrate the existence of several sources of attentional capture, and that both physical stimulus properties and the state of the nervous system influence capture.

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