Previous research has shown that the extent to which people spread attention across the visual field plays a crucial role in visual selection and the occurrence of bottom-up driven attentional capture. Consistent with previous findings, we show that when attention was diffusely distributed across the visual field while searching for a shape singleton, an irrelevant salient color singleton captured attention. However, while using the very same displays and task, no capture was observed when observers initially focused their attention at the center of the display. Using event-related fMRI, we examined the modulation of retinotopic activity related to attentional capture in early visual areas. Because the sensory display characteristics were identical in both conditions, we were able to isolate the brain activity associated with exogenous attentional capture. The results show that spreading of attention leads to increased bottom-up exogenous capture and increased activity in visual area V3 but not in V2 and V1. © 2011 Mulckhuyse et al.