We report that spatial cueing of a parafoveal target in the presence of distractors enhances orientational acuity for that target. When no distractors were present, orientation thresholds were in the range 1-4 . For long exposure times, distractors increased threshold by the amount predicted from a winner-takes-all spatial uncertainty model. For short (100-msec) exposures followed by a random dot mask, the rise in threshold with distractors was considerably greater than that predicted from spatial uncertainty. For brief exposures the effect of distractors was greater when the target and distractors were spatially crowded rather than widely spaced. Adding a tilt to the distractors in the opposite direction to the target increased thresholds still further. Cueing the target with a spatial pointer decreased the effect of distractors, even when they were crowded. We suggest that when attention cannot be appropriately focused, discrimination is carried out by a relatively coarse texture analyser, which averages over several elements, and that focused attention permits the analysis of the target over a smaller area of space.