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The flexible focus: Whether spatial attention is unitary or divided depends on observer goals

Jefferies, L.N., Enns, J.T. and Di Lollo, V. (2014) The flexible focus: Whether spatial attention is unitary or divided depends on observer goals. Human Perception and Performance, 40 (2). pp. 465-470.

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The distribution of visual attention has been the topic of much investigation, and various theories have posited that attention is allocated either as a single unitary focus or as multiple independent foci. In the present experiment, we demonstrate that attention can be flexibly deployed as either a unitary or a divided focus in the same experimental task, depending on the observer’s goals. To assess the distribution of attention, we used a dual-stream Attentional Blink (AB) paradigm and 2 target pairs. One component of the AB, Lag-1 sparing, occurs only if the second target pair appears within the focus of attention. By varying whether the first-target-pair could be expected in a predictable location (always in-stream) or not (unpredictably in-stream or between-streams), observers were encouraged to deploy a divided or a unitary focus, respectively. When the second-target-pair appeared between the streams, Lag-1 sparing occurred for the Unpredictable group (consistent with a unitary focus) but not for the Predictable group (consistent with a divided focus). Thus, diametrically different outcomes occurred for physically identical displays, depending on the expectations of the observer about where spatial attention would be required.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Psychology and Exercise Science
Publisher: American Psychological Association
Copyright: American Psychological Association
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