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Julien Dubois, Fred H. Hamker, Rufin VanRullen; Attentional selection of noncontiguous locations: The spotlight is only transiently “split”. Journal of Vision 2009;9(5):3. doi: 10.1167/9.5.3.
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It is still a matter of debate whether observers can attend simultaneously to more than one location. Using essentially the same paradigm as was used previously by N. P. Bichot, K. R. Cave, and H. Pashler (1999), we demonstrate that their finding of an attentional “split” between separate target locations only reflects the early phase of attentional selection. Our subjects were asked to compare the shapes (circle or square) of 2 oddly colored targets within an array of 8 stimuli. After a varying stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA), 8 letters were flashed at the previous stimulus locations, followed by a mask. For a given SOA, the performance of subjects at reporting letters in each location was taken to reflect the distribution of spatial attention. In particular, by considering the proportion of trials in which none or both of the target letters were reported, we were able to infer the respective amount of attention allocated to each target without knowing, on a trial-by-trial basis which location (if any) was receiving the most attentional resources. Our results show that for SOAs under 100–150 ms, attention can be equally split between the two targets, a conclusion compatible with previous reports. However, with longer SOAs, this attentional division can no longer be sustained and attention ultimately settles at the location of one single stimulus.
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