Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

When Can Spatial Attention Be Deployed in the Formof an Annulus?

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

When Can Spatial Attention Be Deployed in the Formof an Annulus?

Article excerpt

Published online: 25 October 2014

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Can spatial attention be deployed as an annulus? Some studies have answered this question in the positive, others in the negative. We tested the hypothesis that annular deployment depends on the presence of a suitable structural framework to which attention can be anchored. To this end, we added a structural framework to the displays of a study that failed to find an annular distribution of attention. The targets were displayed in an annular region around a central stream of task-irrelevant distractors which captured attention and impaired target identification. This design was replicated in our No-Anchors condition. In the Anchors condition in Experiments 1 and 2, a square outline was displayed at each of the four possible target locations. Consistent with the idea that attention can be deployed as an annulus only when a visual framework is present, the targets were identified more accurately (Experiment 1) and more rapidly (Experiment 2) when anchors were present than when they were absent. The number of anchors was increased to eight in Experiment 3. In Experiment 4 the central stream was omitted to verify that the enhanced performance did not arise from intrinsic properties of the anchors themselves. In Experiment 5, targets were presented in a blank annular region delimited by two concentric circles, thus obviating the possibility that attention was deployed as four or eight separate foci in Experiments 2 and 3, respectively.

Keywords Attention: space-based . Attention: selective . Attentional blink

In everyday experience, the visual system is exposed to an ever-changing stream of images that can exceed its processing capabilities. Selective attention provides a means of focusing on task-relevant information while filtering out irrelevant information. In the course of selecting relevant information, the focus of attention can be shifted rapidly from one object or location to another (Posner, 1980; Posner & Cohen, 1984; Weichselgartner & Sperling, 1987), expanded or contracted to match the size of relevant objects (Castiello & Umiltà, 1990; Eriksen & St. James, 1986; Jefferies, Gmeindl, & Yantis, 2014), and can even be split into more than one focus (Bay & Wyble, 2014; Jefferies, Enns, & Di Lollo, 2014; McMains & Sommers, 2004). Whether attention can be deployed in the form of an annulus (sometimes called a doughnut or a ring) is unclear: some studies have found evidence in favor (Egly & Homa, 1984; Eimer, 1999, 2000; Juola, Bouwhuis, Cooper, & Warren, 1991; Müller & Hübner, 2002), others against (Beck & Lavie, 2005; Visser et al., 2004). Here, we report the outcomes of four experiments aimed at identifying the factors that allowed attention to be deployed as an annulus in some studies but not in others.

A common characteristic of the studies that found evidence for annular distribution of attention is that they used a structural framework that demarcated the spatial confines of an annular region. For example, Juola et al. (1991) displayed a set of concentric circles that remained on view before and after the presentation of the target. At the beginning of each trial, the observers were informed which circle would contain the target. Similar spatial frameworks were employed by Eimer (1999, 2000) and by Egly and Homa (1984), who referred to the framework as a 'spiderweb'. In contrast, no spatial frame of reference was employed in the studies that failed to find evidence for an annular distribution of spatial attention (Beck & Lavie, 2005; Visser et al., 2004).

This pattern of results suggests that whether attention can be deployed in the formof an annulus depends on the presence of a visual framework to which attention can be anchored. The present work was a test of this hypothesis. To this end, we modified the design developed by Visser et al. (2004) by adding a spatial frame of reference to the displays. …

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