September 2011
Volume 11, Issue 11
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2011
Conceptual Cues for Visual Attention
Author Affiliations
  • Davood Gozli
    Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Canada
  • Alison Chasteen
    Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Canada
  • Jay Pratt
    Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Canada
Journal of Vision September 2011, Vol.11, 253. doi:
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      Davood Gozli, Alison Chasteen, Jay Pratt; Conceptual Cues for Visual Attention. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):253.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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It has been suggested that processing concepts with either prototypical spatial information (e.g., hat vs. shoes) or metaphoric-spatial associations (e.g., god vs. devil) engages visual-attentional mechanisms, orienting attention toward regions of the visual field congruent with concept meaning. Interestingly, both facilitatory (Chasteen et al., 2010) and inhibitory (Estes et al., 2008) effects have been reported as consequences of these shifts of attention. Here we examine two possible causes of this discrepancy. One possibility relates to the nature of the task; tasks requiring target detection may receive facilitation from processing congruent concepts while tasks requiring target discrimination may receive inhibitory effects. A second possibility relates to the nature of the concepts that cue attention; abstract concepts (e.g., god, devil) may invoke facilitatory processes, while concrete concepts (e.g., hat, shoes) invoke inhibitory processes. In Experiment 1, a single word at fixation, either an abstract or concrete concept, preceded a peripheral target (above or below fixation) and subjects were asked to detect the targets as quickly as possible. In Experiment 2, the same procedure was used except that subjects were asked to identify the targets as quickly as possible. To ensure semantic processing of the words, subjects were asked to respond only on trials when the word belonged to a pre-specified category (e.g., divine words). Opposite patterns of results were found across the two concept types: for abstract words, responses were faster in both tasks when target location and word meaning were compatible relative to when they were incompatible. This pattern was reversed for concrete concepts, with faster responses during incompatible trials relative to compatible trials. It appears that the nature of concepts underlies the qualitatively different attentional effects previously reported.

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. 

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