The Spatial Focus of Attention Is Controlled at Perceptual and Cognitive Levels

Caparos, Serge and Linnell, Karina J. 2010. The Spatial Focus of Attention Is Controlled at Perceptual and Cognitive Levels. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 36(5), pp. 1080-1107. ISSN 0096-1523 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Selective attention has been hypothesized to reduce distractor interference at both perceptual and postperceptual levels (Lavie, 2005), respectively, by focusing perceptual resources on the attended location and by blocking at postperceptual levels distractors that survive perceptual selection. This study measured the impact of load on these selection mechanisms using a flanker paradigm (Eriksen & St. James, 1986) and indexing distractor interference as a function of separation. It distinguished changes in the extent of focus of the distractor-interference function of separation (reflecting perceptual selection) from changes in the amplitude of distractor interference not accompanied by changes in focus (reflecting postperceptual selection). It showed that: (1) the spatial profile of perceptual resources is shaped like a “Mexican hat” (Mu¨ller et al., 2005); (2) increasing perceptual load focuses perceptual resources (Caparos & Linnell, 2009); (3) increasing cognitive load defocuses perceptual resources; and (4) participants with reduced working-memory span show reduced postperceptual blocking of distractors. While these findings are consistent with two levels of selective attention, they show that the first perceptual level is affected not only by perceptual but also by cognitive-control mechanisms.

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selective attention, spatial attention, perceptual load, cognitive load

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Research Office > REF2014


October 2010Published

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Date Deposited:

08 Jul 2013 16:15

Last Modified:

04 Jul 2017 10:09

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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