Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Object-Based Attention in Chinese Readers of Chinese Words: Beyond Gestalt Principles

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Object-Based Attention in Chinese Readers of Chinese Words: Beyond Gestalt Principles

Article excerpt

Most object-based attention studies use objects defined bottom-up by Gestalt principles. In the present study, we defined objects top-down, using Chinese words that were seen as objects by skilled readers of Chinese. Using a spatial cuing paradigm, we found that a target character was detected faster if it was in the same word as the cued character than if it was in a different word. Because there were no bottom-up factors that distinguished the words, these results showed that objects defined by subjects' knowledge-in this case, lexical information-can also constrain the deployment of attention.

Historically, covert visual attention was thought to be space based, so that attention was focused on regions of space, rather than on the objects in the display. Whether an object was selected was determined by its distance from the focus of attention. Space-based attention was modeled as spotlights (B. A. Eriksen & C. W. Eriksen, 1974; Posner, 1980), zoom lenses (C. W. Eriksen & St. James, 1986), and gradients (Downing & Pinker, 1985). Subsequently, two lines of evidence have suggested that attention can also be object based. One line of evidence comes from the use of divided-attention paradigms, showing that two attributes of one object can be recognized more rapidly and accurately than two attributes of different objects (Awh, Dhaliwal, Christensen, & Matsukura, 2001; Duncan, 1984; Kramer, Weber, & Watson, 1997; Lee & Chun, 2001; Vecera, 1997; Vecera & Farah, 1994). The other line of evidence comes from spatial-cuing paradigms, showing that observers are faster when targets and cues are in the same object than when they are in different objects (Egly, Driver, & Rafal, 1994; Moore, Yantis, & Vaughan, 1998; Pratt & Sekuler, 2001; Vecera, 1994). Although there are different interpretations of these two lines of evidence, they support the view that the organization of displays into objects can influence attention deployment.

Although much evidence supports object-based attention, what an object is or how an object is defined is still uncertain (Logan, 1996). Most work on object-based attention uses Gestalt principles, such as continuation, collinearity, similarity, or common fate, to define objects, which are usually considered to be bottom-up factors. In a classical demonstration of object-based attention, Egly et al. (1994) used two parallel rectangles, arrayed horizontally or vertically, to contrast space-based and objectbased attention. As is illustrated in Figure 1A, a cue was presented on one end of a rectangle, and then a target was presented at the cued location, at the other end of the cued rectangle, or on one end of the other rectangle. Egly et al. found that reaction times (RTs) were faster when the target was at the cued location than when it was at uncued locations, which supported space-based attention. In a critical comparison of the invalid-cue conditions, they found that RTs were faster when the target was in the cued rectangle than when the target was in the other rectangle, although the distance from the cue and the target was the same in these two conditions. This result provided strong support for object-based attention when objects were defined bottom-up. Although most object-based attention studies used spatially connected objects, some studies (e.g., Dodd & Pratt, 2005) showed that spatially separate items could also produce an object-based effect when perceptually grouped together.

Objects can not only be defined bottom-up by Gestalt principles, but also be defined top-down. Robertson and Treisman (2006) found that a patient with Balint's syndrome, who could only perceive single objects, could identify familiar words (on and no) but not the relative location of the two letters ("o" and "n") in the display. They took this to suggest that familiar words could be perceived as objects. The present study was designed to explore whether objects defined top-down by subjects' lexical knowledge could constrain the deployment of attention. …

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