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Exogenous attention, the process that makes external salient stimuli pop-out of a visual scene, is essential for survival. How attention-capturing events modulate human brain processing remains unclear. Here we show how the psychological construct of exogenous attention gradually emerges over large-scale gradients in the human cortex, by analyzing activity from 1,403 intracortical contacts implanted in 28 individuals, while they performed an exogenous attention task. The timing, location and task-relevance of attentional events defined a spatiotemporal gradient of three neural clusters, which mapped onto cortical gradients and presented a hierarchy of timescales. Visual attributes modulated neural activity at one end of the gradient, while at the other end it reflected the upcoming response timing, with attentional effects occurring at the intersection of visual and response signals. These findings challenge multi-step models of attention, and suggest that frontoparietal networks, which process sequential stimuli as separate events sharing the same location, drive exogenous attention phenomena such as inhibition of return.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date





Humans, Attention, Vision, Ocular, Brain, Brain Mapping, Photic Stimulation, Visual Perception