Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
We investigated using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) the neural processes associated with performance of a change-detection task. In this task, two versions of the same picture are presented in alternation, separated by a brief mask interval. Even when the two pictures greatly differ (e.g., as when a building is in different locations), subjects report that identification of the change is difficult and often take 30 or more seconds to identify the change. This phenomenon of “change blindness” provides a powerful and novel paradigm for segregating components of visual attention using fMRI that can otherwise be confounded in short-duration tasks. By using a response-contingent event-related analysis technique, we successfully dissociated brain regions associated with different processing components of a visual change-detection task. Activation in the calcarine cortex was associated with task onset, but did not vary with the duration of visual search. In contrast, the pattern of activation in dorsal and ventral visual areas was temporally associated with the duration of visual search. As such, our results support a distinction between brain regions whose activation is modulated by attentional demands of the visual task (extrastriate cortex) and those that are not affected by it (primary visual cortex). A second network of areas including central sulcus, insular, and inferior frontal cortical areas, along with the thalamus and basal ganglia, showed phasic activation tied to the execution of responses. Finally, parietal and frontal regions showed systematic deactivations during task performance, consistent with previous reports that these regions may be associated with nontask semantic processing. We conclude that detection of change, when transient visual cues are not present, requires activation of extrastriate visual regions and frontal regions responsible for eye movements. These results suggest that studies of change blindness can inform understanding of more general attentional processing.