Attentional selection of objects or features: evidence from a modified search task

J R Mounts, R D Melara
Perception & Psychophysics 1999, 61 (2): 322-41
Three experiments examined the domain of visual selective attention (i.e., feature-based selection vs. object-based selection). Experiment 1 extended the requirements of the visual search task by requiring a feature discrimination response to target elements presented for short durations (30-105 msec). Targets were embedded in 47 distractor elements and were defined by either a distinct color or a distinct orientation. Observers made a discrimination response to either the target's color or its orientation. When the target-defining feature and the feature to be discriminated were the same (matched conditions), accuracy was enhanced relative to when these features belonged to separate dimensions (mismatched conditions). In Experiment 2, similar results were found in a task in which the target-defining dimension varied from trial to trial and observers performed both color and orientation discriminations on every trial. The results from these two experiments are consistent with feature-based attentional selection, but not with object-based selection. Experiment 3 extended these findings by showing that the effect is rooted in the overlap between target and distractor values in the stimulus set. The results are discussed in the context of recent models of visual selective attention.

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