Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Effects of Display Complexity on Location and Feature Inhibition

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Effects of Display Complexity on Location and Feature Inhibition

Article excerpt

Published online: 2 August 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Inhibition of return refers to the lengthening of reaction times (RTs) to a target when a preceding stimulus has occupied the same location in space. Recently, we observed a robust inhibitory effect for color and shape in moderately complex displays: It is more difficult to detect a target with a particular nonspatial attribute if a stimulus with the same attribute was recently the focus of attention. Such nonspatial inhibitory effects have not generally been found in simpler displays. In the present study, we test how location-based and nonspatial inhibitory effects vary as a function of display complexity (eight, six, four, and two locations). The results demonstrated that (1) location-based inhibition effects were much stronger in more complex displays, whereas the nonspatial inhibition was only slightly stronger in more complex displays; (2) nonspatial inhibitory effects emerged at longer stimulus onset asynchronies than did location-based effects; and (3) nonspatial inhibition appeared only when cues and targets occurred in the same locations, confirming that pure feature repetition does not produce a cost. Taken together, the results are consistent with perceptual processes based on object files that are organized by spatial location. Using somewhat more complex displays than are most commonly employed provides a more sensitive method for observing the role of inhibitory processes in facilitating visual search. In addition, using a relatively wide set of cue-target timing relationships is necessary in order to clearly see how inhibitory effects operate.

Keywords Inhibition of return . Location-based inhibition . Feature-based inhibition . Display complexity

As we navigate the world each day, we generate thousands of actions in response to countless objects and features of those objects in our environment. Among the many objects present at any moment, only a few are task relevant. The others are task irrelevant and, thus, potentially distracting. The ability to efficiently direct visual attention to target objects or features and ignore distractrs is thus critical for efficient functioning. And once we have extracted information about a relevant object or feature, to ensure accurate and effective perception, we need an attentional control mechanism to discourage attention from reorienting back to previously attended locations and features. The term inhibition of return (IOR) has been used to describe such a mechanism: a bias against attending to visual stimuli at recently attended locations (Posner & Cohen, 1984; Posner, Rafal, Choate, & Vaughan, 1985).

In Posner and Cohen's (1984) seminal study of IOR, subjects were presented with three boxes: one to the left, one to the right, and one at the center of a screen (Fig. 1, leftpanel). A trial began with the brightening of one of the peripheral boxes for 150 ms, which served as a visual cue. Later, a small dot appeared in one of the three boxes 0- 500 ms following the onset of the cue. This target appeared in the central box with a probability of .6 and in one of the peripheral boxes with a probability of .1 (catch trials occurred with a probability of .2). Subjects were required to hit a response button upon detection of the target. When the cue-target interval (stimulus onset asynchrony, SOA) was less than 250 ms, responses were faster to the visual targets that appeared at the cued location. However, this facilitation effect disappeared and reversed when the SOA exceeded 300 ms: Responses were actually slower at the cued location, as compared with the uncued location. Posner and Cohen proposed that IOR reflected a buildup of inhibition after attention was disengaged from the cued location and that the slowed responses were the result of a delay in attention returning to a previously examined location (for alternative theoretical perspectives, see Dukewich, 2009; Klein & Taylor, 1994; Lupiáñez, 2010). …

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