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Three experiments investigated whether it is possible to orient selective spatial attention to internal representations held in working memory in a similar fashion to orienting to perceptual stimuli. In the first experiment, subjects were either cued to orient to a spatial location before a stimulus array was presented (pre-cue), cued to orient to a spatial location in working memory after the array was presented (retro-cue), or given no cueing information (neutral cue). The stimulus array consisted of four differently colored crosses, one in each quadrant. At the end of a trial, a colored cross (probe) was presented centrally, and subjects responded according to whether it had occurred in the array. There were equivalent patterns of behavioral costs and benefits of cueing for both pre-cues and retro-cues. A follow-up experiment used a peripheral probe stimulus requiring a decision about whether its color matched that of the item presented at the same location in the array. Replication of the behavioral costs and benefits of pre-cues and retro-cues in this experiment ruled out changes in response criteria as the only explanation for the effects. The third experiment used event-related potentials (ERPs) to compare the neural processes involved in orienting attention to a spatial location in an external versus an internal spatial representation. In this task, subjects responded according to whether a central probe stimulus occurred at the cued location in the array. There were both similarities and differences between ERPs to spatial cues toward a perception versus an internal spatial representation. Lateralized early posterior and later frontal negativities were observed for both pre- and retro-cues. Retro-cues also showed additional neural processes to be involved in orienting to an internal representation, including early effects over frontal electrodes.

Original publication




Journal article


J Cogn Neurosci

Publication Date





1176 - 1194


Adult, Attention, Brain, Color Perception, Cues, Evoked Potentials, Female, Humans, Male, Memory, Short-Term, Orientation, Photic Stimulation, Reaction Time, Space Perception, Visual Perception