Differential activation of frontoparietal attention networks by social and symbolic spatial cues
Perception of both gaze-direction and symbolic directional cues (e.g. arrows) orient an observer’s attention toward the indicated location. It is unclear, however, whether these similar behavioral effects are examples of the same attentional phenomenon and, therefore, subserved by the same neural substrate. It has been proposed that gaze, given its evolutionary significance, constitutes a ‘special’ category of spatial cue. As such, it is predicted that the neural systems supporting spatial reorienting will be different for gaze than for non-biological symbols. We tested this prediction using functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure the brain’s response during target localization in which laterally presented targets were preceded by uninformative gaze or arrow cues. Reaction times were faster during valid than invalid trials for both arrow and gaze cues. However, differential patterns of activity were evoked in the brain. Trials including invalid rather than valid arrow cues resulted in a stronger hemodynamic response in the ventral attention network. No such difference was seen during trials including valid and invalid gaze cues. This differential engagement of the ventral reorienting network is consistent with the notion that the facilitation of target detection by gaze cues and arrow cues is subserved by different neural substrates.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience