Precueing attention to the target location diminishes crowding and reduces the critical distance

Yaffa Yeshurun, Einat Rashal
Journal of Vision 2010, 10 (10): 16
The identification of a peripheral target surrounded by flankers is often harder than the identification of an identical isolated target. This study examined whether this crowding phenomenon, and particularly its spatial extent, is affected by the allocation of spatial attention to the target location. We measured orientation identification of a rotated T with and without flankers. The distance between the target and the flankers and their eccentricity varied systematically. We manipulated attention via peripheral precues: in the cued condition, a dot indicated the target location prior to its onset. On the neutral condition, a central disk conveyed no information regarding the target location (Experiments 1-2), and on the invalid condition (Experiment 3), an invalid cue attracted attention to a nontarget location. We found, across all experiments, at all eccentricities, a significant attentional enhancement of identification accuracy. Most importantly, we found a significant attentional reduction of the critical distance (i.e., the target-flankers distance at which the flankers no longer interfere with target identification). These attentional effects were found regardless of the presence or absence of a backward mask and whether the attentional cue was informative or not. These findings suggest that attention reduces the spatial extent of crowding.

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