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Dirk B. Walther, Li Fei-Fei; Task-set switching with natural scenes: Measuring the cost of deploying top-down attention. Journal of Vision 2007;7(11):9. doi: 10.1167/7.11.9.
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In many everyday situations, we bias our perception from the top down, based on a task or an agenda. Frequently, this entails shifting attention to a specific attribute of a particular object or scene. To explore the cost of shifting top-down attention to a different stimulus attribute, we adopt the task-set switching paradigm, in which switch trials are contrasted with repeat trials in mixed-task blocks and with single-task blocks. Using two tasks that relate to the content of a natural scene in a gray-level photograph and two tasks that relate to the color of the frame around the image, we were able to distinguish switch costs with and without shifts of attention. We found a significant cost in reaction time of 23–31 ms for switches that require shifting attention to other stimulus attributes, but no significant switch cost for switching the task set within an attribute. We conclude that deploying top-down attention to a different attribute incurs a significant cost in reaction time, but that biasing to a different feature value within the same stimulus attribute is effortless.
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