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Leila Reddy, Patrick C Wilken, Christof Koch; Face-gender discrimination is possible in the near-absence of attention. Journal of Vision 2003;3(9):576. doi: 10.1167/3.9.576.
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Several studies have shown that simple visual tasks, such as color or orientaton discrimination, can be performed in the near-absence of attention. In contrast, participants are unable to perform slightly more complex tasks, such as discrimination between the arbitrarily rotated letters “T” and “L” or between two spatial arrangements of colors when attention is engaged elsewhere. Recently, Li and colleagues (2001,2002) showed on the basis of a dual-task paradigm that natural scenes (e.g., animal vs. non-animal) can be categorized in the near-absence of attention. In this study we investigate whether subjects are able to perform a sub-ordinate level categorization task in the near-absence of attention. Participants performed a face-gender discrimination task (database of colored faces obtained from MPI, Germany) either alone (single-task), or concurrently (dual-task), with a known attentional demanding task (5-letter T/L discrimination). Overall performance on face-gender discrimination suffered remarkably little impairment in the dual-task condition compared to the single-task condition. Similar results were obtained in a set of experiments which controlled for possible training effects or low-level cues in the face database. These results challenge the notion that only low-level representations can be accessed outside the focus of attention.
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