Tuning Attention to Object Categories: Spatially Global Effects of Attention to Faces in Visual Processing
Feature-based attention is known to enhance visual processing globally across the visual field, even at task-irrelevant locations. Here, we asked whether attention to object categories, in particular faces, shows similar location-independent tuning. Using EEG, we measured the face-selective N170 component of the EEG signal to examine neural responses to faces at task-irrelevant locations while participants attended to faces at another task-relevant location. Across two experiments, we found that visual processing of faces was amplified at task-irrelevant locations when participants attended to faces relative to when participants attended to either buildings or scrambled face parts. The fact that we see this enhancement with the N170 suggests that these attentional effects occur at the earliest stage of face processing. Two additional behavioral experiments showed that it is easier to attend to the same object category across the visual field relative to two distinct categories, consistent with object-based attention spreading globally. Together, these results suggest that attention to high-level object categories shows similar spatially global effects on visual processing as attention to simple, individual, low-level features.