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Distractor-target interactions during directed visual attention

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image of Spatial Vision
For more content, see Multisensory Research and Seeing and Perceiving.

Abstraet-The spatial extent of directed visual attention (DVA) was examined in a series of experiments using precuing in a suprathreshold luminance detection (reaction time) paradigm. Previous findings (Hughes, H. C. and Zimba, L. D. J. Exp. Psychol.: Human Percept Perf., 1985, 11, 409-430) indicated that, in an empty visual field, the effects of DVA were primarily manifest as a uniform elevation of response times to all probe targets in the hemifield contralateral to the observer's expectancy. The present experiments were designed to determine whether increased spatial selectivity could be found when luminous markers indicated the exact location of the expected visual target. To maintain equivalent states of adaptation in both hemifields, luminous markers were also present at the same location in the contralateral hemifield. In general, hemifield effects were again obtained, but with two notable exceptions. First, marking locations in the unattended hemifield produced a local increase (enhanced interference) in RTs above the level characteristic of other locations within that hemifield. Second, when multiple locations were indicated with identical luminous markers, graded costs were obtained in both hemifields. However, scaling the markers according to estimates of cortical magnification factor (M) substantially reduced the slope of these inhibitory gradients, and the results once again approached those characteristic of an unstructured visual field. The findings suggest that when attention is directed to a marked location along the horizontal meridian, a transition in performance typically occurs at the vertical meridian. In addition, irrelevant stimuli some distance from the attentional focus interfere with detection times to unexpected targets that appear in the same vicinity. This interference may relate to an enhanced susceptibility to spatial interactions between the distractors and target away from the attentional focus. The interference appears to extend over a constant area of visual cortex, since it is reduced when the markers are M-scaled.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA


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