Brain signals for spatial attention predict performance in a motion discrimination task

Ayelet Sapir, Giovanni D'Avossa, Mark McAvoy, Gordon L. Shulman, Maurizio Corbetta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


The reliability of visual perception is thought to reflect the quality of the sensory information. However, we show that subjects' performance can be predicted, trial-by-trial, by neural activity that precedes the onset of a sensory stimulus. Using functional MRI (fMRI), we studied how neural mechanisms that mediate spatial attention affect the accuracy of a motion discrimination judgment. The amplitude of blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signals after a cue directing spatial attention predicted subjects' accuracy on 60-75% of the trials. Widespread predictive signals, which included dorsal parietal, visual extra-striate, prefrontal and sensory-motor cortex, depended on whether the cue correctly specified the stimulus location. Therefore, these signals indicate the degree of utilization of the cued information and play a role in the control of spatial attention. We conclude that variability in perceptual performance can be partly explained by the variability in endogenous, preparatory processes and that BOLD signals can be used to forecast human behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17810-17815
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number49
StatePublished - Dec 6 2005


  • Cue utilization
  • Functional MRI
  • Performance variability
  • Reward


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