Sawaki R, Geng JJ, Luck SJ
J. Neurosci. 2012 Aug;32(31):10725-36
Much is known about the mechanisms by which attention is focused to facilitate perception, but little is known about what happens to attention after perception of the attended object is complete. One possibility is that the focus of attention passively fades. A second possibility is that attention is actively terminated after the completion of perception so that the brain can be prepared for the next target. The present study investigated this issue with event-related potentials in humans, focusing on the N2pc component (a neural measure of attentional deployment) and the Pd component (a neural measure of attentional suppression). We found that active suppression occurred both to prevent the allocation of attention to known distractors and to terminate attention after the perception of an attended object was complete. In addition, the neural measure of active suppression was correlated with a behavioral measure of trial-to-trial variations in the allocation of attention. Active suppression therefore appears to be a general-purpose mechanism that both prevents and terminates the allocation of attention.