Functional Imaging of Visuospatial Attention in Complex and Naturalistic Conditions
One of the ultimate goals of cognitive neuroscience is to understand how the brain works in the real world. Functional imaging with naturalistic stimuli provides us with the opportunity to study the brain in situations similar to the everyday life. This includes the processing of complex stimuli that can trigger many types of signals related both to the physical characteristics of the external input and to the internal knowledge that we have about natural objects and environments. In this chapter, I will first outline different types of stimuli that have been used in naturalistic imaging studies. These include static pictures, short video clips, full-length movies, and virtual reality, each comprising specific advantages and disadvantages. Next, I will turn to the main issue of visual-spatial orienting in naturalistic conditions and its neural substrates. I will discuss different classes of internal signals, related to objects, scene structure, and long-term memory. All of these, together with external signals about stimulus salience, have been found to modulate the activity and the connectivity of the frontoparietal attention networks. I will conclude by pointing out some promising future directions for functional imaging with naturalistic stimuli. Despite this field of research is still in its early days, I consider that it will play a major role in bridging the gap between standard laboratory paradigms and mechanisms of brain functioning in the real world.
KeywordsAttention fMRI Knowledge Naturalistic Salience Space
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