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Alex Close, Ayelet Sapir, Katherine Burnett, Giovanni d'Avossa; Attention to multiple locations is limited by spatial working memory capacity. Journal of Vision 2014;14(9):17. doi: 10.1167/14.9.17.
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What limits the ability to attend several locations simultaneously? There are two possibilities: Either attention cannot be divided without incurring a cost, or spatial memory is limited and observers forget which locations to monitor. We compared motion discrimination when attention was directed to one or multiple locations by briefly presented central cues. The cues were matched for the amount of spatial information they provided. Several random dot kinematograms (RDKs) followed the spatial cues; one of them contained task-relevant, coherent motion. When four RDKs were presented, discrimination accuracy was identical when one and two locations were indicated by equally informative cues. However, when six RDKs were presented, discrimination accuracy was higher following one rather than multiple location cues. We examined whether memory of the cued locations was diminished under these conditions. Recall of the cued locations was tested when participants attended the cued locations and when they did not attend the cued locations. Recall was inaccurate only when the cued locations were attended. Finally, visually marking the cued locations, following one and multiple location cues, equalized discrimination performance, suggesting that participants could attend multiple locations when they did not have to remember which ones to attend. We conclude that endogenously dividing attention between multiple locations is limited by inaccurate recall of the attended locations and that attention poses separate demands on the same central processes used to remember spatial information, even when the locations attended and those held in memory are the same.
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