Localized attentional interference affects object individuation, not feature detection

Jason S McCarley, Jeffrey R W Mounts
Perception 2007, 36 (1): 17-32
Modern theorists conceptualize visual selective attention as a competition between object representations for the control of extrastriate receptive fields, an account supported by the finding that attentional selection of one stimulus can degrade processing of nearby stimuli. In the present study the conditions that produce reciprocal interference between attended stimuli are examined. Each display contained either no, one, or two feature-defined target items among an array of homogeneous distractors. Observers performed two tasks, feature detection and object individuation. The feature-detection task required observers to determine if any targets were present within the display. The object-individuation task required observers to determine if the number of targets was exactly two. Spatially mediated interference between target pairs occurred in the object-individuation task, but had no effect on feature detection. Results suggest that localized interference between attended stimuli occurs only when observers are required to resolve the features of individual objects, consistent with the competitive interaction models of attention.

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