Perceptual and Cognitive Load Interact to Control the Spatial Focus of Attention

Linnell, Karina J and Caparos, Serge. 2011. Perceptual and Cognitive Load Interact to Control the Spatial Focus of Attention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 37(5), pp. 1643-1648. ISSN 0096-1523 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Caparos and Linnell (2009, 2010) used a variable-separation flanker paradigm to show that (a) when cognitive load is low, increasing perceptual load causes spatial attention to focus and (b) when perceptual load is high, decreasing cognitive load causes spatial attention to focus. Here, we tested whether the effects of perceptual and cognitive load on spatial focus remain when, respectively, cognitive load is high and perceptual load is low. We found that decreasing cognitive load only causes spatial attention to focus when perceptual load is high and the stimulus encourages this. Moreover, and contrary to the widely held assumption that perceptual load focuses attention automatically (Lavie, Hirst, de Fockert, & Viding, 2004), perceptual load exerts its focusing effect only with the engagement of cognitive resources when cognitive load is low. In sum, perceptual and cognitive mechanisms exert interacting effects and operate in concert to focus spatial attention.

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selective attention, spatial attention, perceptual load, cognitive load

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Research Office > REF2014


October 2011Published

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Date Deposited:

08 Jul 2013 16:14

Last Modified:

04 Jul 2017 10:09

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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