Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Involuntary Attention and Identification Accuracy

Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Involuntary Attention and Identification Accuracy

Article excerpt

Using the spatial cuing paradigm, Prinzmetal, McCool, and Park (2005) made the distinction between voluntary and involuntary attention. They claimed that although accuracy was affected by an informative spatial cue (which controls voluntary attention), it was not affected by a noninformative cue (which controls involuntary attention). We reevaluate two reports that assert that noninformative spatial cues affect accuracy. Dufour (1999) reported that a noninformative auditory cue enhanced visual identification in a conjunction search task. Klein and Dick (2002) reported that, in an RSVP task with visual cues, the cue also enhanced accuracy at short stimulus onset asynchronies. We found that Dufour's results were due to overt orienting (eye movements) rather than to covert attention. The results of Klein and Dick were due either to location uncertainty or to a confounding of the order of stimulus presentation and condition.

It has been known for over 100 years that one can fixate one's eyes on one location yet attend to another location (Helmholtz, 1896; James, 1890; Wundt, 1912). Historically, it has been suggested that there are two varieties of this kind of attention. For example, Wundt (1902) commented that attention could be "involuntary" or "voluntary." He thought that these two forms of attention differed only in complexity, but that they were mediated by the same mechanisms. A variety of distinctions that correspond more or less to Wundt's (1902) voluntary and involuntary forms of attention has been made, including those between endogenous attention and exogenous attention, push cues and pull cues, and central cues and peripheral cues (see, e.g., Jonides, 1976; Klein & Shore, 2000; Posner, 1980). Most experimenters investigating this distinction have used the spatial cuing task developed by Michael Posner and his colleagues (Posner, 1978, 1980; Posner, Snyder, & Davidson, 1980). In this paradigm, observers engage in either detection or identification of a peripherally presented stimulus. However, before the stimulus appears, observers are precued to its possible location. On valid trials, the cue indicates the target location; on invalid trials, the cue indicates a nontarget location.

Jonides (1976, 1980) investigated the distinction between voluntary and involuntary attention in this paradigm, using a very simple manipulation. To investigate voluntary attention, the cue was informative or predictive of the target location. Thus, on a majority of trials the cue indicated the target location. Under these circumstances, it is advantageous for participants to voluntarily allocate attention to the cued location. To investigate involuntary attention, Jonides (1976, 1980) used cues that were nonpredictive of or noninformative about the target location. Thus, the cue was random with respect to the target location. With random cues, there is no reason for participants to allocate their attention to the cued location, and any effect that the cues have is involuntary. Both informative cues and automatic cues affect reaction time (RT): Observers are faster at detecting or classifying a stimulus in the cued location than in an uncued location (Jonides, 1976, 1980).

There is some evidence that voluntary and involuntary cues differ in a number of respects (see, e.g., Jonides, 1981; Juola, Koshino, & Warner, 1995; Müller & Rabbitt, 1989; Posner, Cohen, & Rafal, 1982; Spence & Driver, 1994; Warner, Juola, & Koshino, 1990). For example, as the interval between the onset of the cue and the onset of the target (i.e., stimulus onset asynchrony, or SOA) increases, the facilitation at the cued location becomes inhibition (see, e.g., Posner & Cohen, 1984). This effect is called inhibition of return (IOR). IOR occurs only with involuntary attention (controlled by noninformative cues) and not with voluntary attention (controlled by informative cues; Posner & Cohen, 1984; Richard, Wright, & Ward, 2003). …

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