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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Attention along the cortical hierarchy: Development matters

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Abstract We build on the existing biased competition view to argue that attention is an emergent property of neural computations within and across hierarchically embedded and structurally connected cortical pathways. Critically then, one must ask, what is attention emergent from? Within this framework, developmental changes in the quality of sensory input and feedforward‐feedback information flow shape the emergence and efficiency of attention. Several gradients of developing structural and functional cortical architecture across the caudal‐to‐rostral axis provide the substrate for attention to emerge. Neural activity within visual areas depends on neuronal density, receptive field size, tuning properties of neurons, and the location of and competition between features and objects in the visual field. These visual cortical properties highlight the information processing bottleneck attention needs to resolve. Recurrent feedforward and feedback connections convey sensory information through a series of steps at each level of the cortical hierarchy, integrating sensory information across the entire extent of the cortical hierarchy and linking sensory processing to higher‐order brain regions. Higher‐order regions concurrently provide input conveying behavioral context and goals. Thus, attention reflects the output of a series of complex biased competition neural computations that occur within and across hierarchically embedded cortical regions. Cortical development proceeds along the caudal‐to‐rostral axis, mirroring the flow in sensory information from caudal to rostral regions, and visual processing continues to develop into childhood. Examining both typical and atypical development will offer critical mechanistic insight not otherwise available in the adult stable state. This article is categorized under: Psychology > Attention

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