Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Symbolic Control of Visual Attention: Semantic Constraints on the Spatial Distribution of Attention

Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Symbolic Control of Visual Attention: Semantic Constraints on the Spatial Distribution of Attention

Article excerpt

Humans routinely use spatial language to control the spatial distribution of attention. In so doing, spatial information may be communicated from one individual to another across opposing frames of reference, which in turn can lead to inconsistent mappings between symbols and directions (or locations). These inconsistencies may have important implications for the symbolic control of attention because they can be translated into differences in cue validity, a manipulation that is known to influence the focus of attention. This differential validity hypothesis was tested in Experiment 1 by comparing spatial word cues that were predicted to have high learned spatial validity ("above/below") and low learned spatial validity ("left/right"). Consistent with this prediction, when two measures of selective attention were used, the results indicated that attention was less focused in response to "left/right" cues than in response to "above/below" cues, even when the actual validity of each of the cues was equal. In addition, Experiment 2 predicted that spatial words such as "left/right" would have lower spatial validity than would other directional symbols that specify direction along the horizontal axis, such as "[arrow left]/[arrow right]" cues. The results were also consistent with this hypothesis. Altogether, the present findings demonstrate important semantic-based constraints on the spatial distribution of attention.

Speakers often use spatial language to orient the attention of listeners to relevant locations and objects in the environment (Clark, 1973; Coventry & Garrod, 2004); and, empirical studies confirm that spatial terms such as "above," "below," "left," and "right" can reliably elicit both voluntary and involuntary shifts of attention to cued locations (Gibson & Kingstone, 2006; Ho & Spence, 2006; Hommel, Pratt, Colzato, & Godijn, 2001; Logan, 1995; Mayer & Kosson, 2004; Vecera & Rizzo, 2004). Findings suggesting that spatial terms can elicit both voluntary and involuntary shifts of attention to cued locations are especially important because they reveal that previously learned linguistic meanings can control the spatial distribution of attention more or less automatically (cf. Jonides, 1981). Given the powerful influence of spatial semantics on attentional control, further research is needed to provide a more complete understanding of the nature of these semantic constraints.

In the present study, we attempt to extend our understanding of linguistic control by considering how differences in the statistical structure of spatial semantics may influence the spatial distribution of attention. Of particular interest is the ambiguity that often arises when spatial terms are used to direct attention. In particular, ambiguity often arises because spatial terms such as "above," "below," "left," and "right" can be defined with respect to a variety of different frames of reference, which may not all be compatible (Carlson, 2003; Coventry & Garrod, 2004; Kemmerer, 2006; Levinson, 2003; Logan, 1995); in addition, the spatial perspective of the speaker is often different from the spatial perspective of the listener (Schober, 1993, 1995).

Moreover, the meanings of some spatial terms, such as "left" and "right," tend to be more ambiguous than the meanings of other spatial terms,such as "above" and "below," especially when they are defined with respect to the egocentric perspective of the speaker, and the perspective of the speaker is different from the perspective of the listener. In the extreme, spatial terms such as "left" may actually mean right (and vice versa) when the word is uttered from the speaker's egocentric perspective and interpreted from the listener's egocentric perspective and the two are offset by 180o. In contrast, no such ambiguity arises for "above" and "below" in this context so long as the two individuals remain in their upright, canonical orientations.

Previous studies of linguistic control have not explicitly considered how the relative ambiguity of different spatial terms that are encountered in typical discourse contexts may come to influence the spatial distribution of attention. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.