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Preparatory Attention: Experiment and Theory

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This study investigated attention to a spatial location using a new spatial preparation task. Participants responded to a target dot presented in the center of a display and ignored a distractor dot presented to the right or left of the center. In an attempt to vary the level of preparatory attention directed to the target, the distractor dot was presented prior to the onset time of the target and the relative frequency of distractor dots to target dots within a block of trials was varied. The results from the first three experiments showed that when instructions induce weak preparatory attention to the target location, response times to a target on target-only trials increase substantially as the percentage of trials containing a distractor increases from 0 to 75%. In Experiments 2 and 3, instructions and display saliency were used to induce strong preparatory attention to the target location, resulting in almost constant response times across distractor percentages. Experiment 4 varied percentage of target trials in the absence of distractors, with the result that response times decreased as target trial percentage increased. Accounts of these data by early “activity-based” and late “criterion-based” attention theories are compared, and the early theory is given a more detailed description within the context of a cognitive neuroscience theory of attention.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Simon's Rock College of Bard, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, 01230 2: Université de Savoie, Chambery, France 3: Université de Paris, Paris, France

Publication date: September 1, 2000

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