attn_visualsearch.doc - 1 Selective visual attention and...

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Selective visual attention and visual search: Behavioral and neural mechanisms   Joy J. Geng and Marlene Behrmann Department of Psychology and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA 15213 USA In: B. Ross and D. Irwin (eds.). The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, vol. 42, Academic  Press, NY. 1
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While our visual experiences convey a sense of sensory richness, recent work has  demonstrated that our perceptions are in fact impoverished relative to the amount of potential  information in the distal stimulus (Grimes, 1996; Levin & Simons, 1997; Mack & Rock, 1998;  O'Regan, Rensink, & Clark, 1999; Rensink, O'Regan, & Clark, 1997; Simons & Levin, 1998).  These  studies demonstrate that conscious perceptions are a consequence of myriad social, goal-oriented (e.g. change detection) and stimulus (e.g. exogenous cueing) factors that are subject to neural  processing constraints (e.g. attentional blink).  The question of how these cognitive and neural  factors interact to select certain bits of information and inhibit other bits from further processing  is the domain of visual attention.   Visual search is one task domain in which visual attention has been studied extensively.  Visual search studies are well-suited as a proxy for real-world attentional requirements as  features of the natural environment such as object clutter are captured while a controlled  stimulus environment is maintained.  In fact, visual search tasks have been used extensively to  examine patterns of visual attention over the last several decades (Neisser, 1964; Treisman &  Gelade, 1980; Wolfe, 1998).  A particularly prolific subset of these studies focuses on the  conditions under which the reaction time (RT) required and accuracy to locate the target is  affected by distractor set size.  Cases in which time to detect a target is largely unaffected by  increasing the number of distractors (e.g. 5 m/distractor item) are labeled as “preattentive”,  whereas cases in which detection time is significantly slowed by increasing numbers of  distractors (e.g. 50m/item) are labeled “attentive” (see Figure 1)  These different search rates  have also been referred to as “parallel” vs. “serial”, “disjunctive” vs. “conjunctive”, or “simple”  vs. “difficult” (Although for the suggestion that the preattentive/attentive distinction is  orthogonal to the parallel/serial dichotomy see Reddy, VanRullen, & Koch, 2002).
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