August 2014
Volume 14, Issue 10
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2014
The order of attentional shifts determines what visual relations we extract
Author Affiliations
  • Audrey L. Michal
    Department of Psychology, Northwestern University
  • Steven L. Franconeri
    Department of Psychology, Northwestern University
Journal of Vision August 2014, Vol.14, 1033. doi:
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      Audrey L. Michal, Steven L. Franconeri; The order of attentional shifts determines what visual relations we extract. Journal of Vision 2014;14(10):1033.

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

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According to one recent account, judging spatial relations (e.g., a small blue object to the left of a large red one) is based on ordered attentional shifts. This account predicts that spatial relations are represented asymmetrically; knowing that the left, blue object is smaller is distinct from knowing that the right, red object is larger. However, evidence for the importance of this 'directionality' in judging spatial relations is missing. Here we confirm the surprising prediction that the order of attentional shifts has a powerful impact on the direction of the extracted relation. Participants were eyetracked while they made speeded responses to questions of the type "Is the red object larger than the blue object?" For this question, we predicted faster responses when the order of attentional selection started with the red (first mentioned) object, producing a representation of 'red larger'. In an undergraduate population, we found exactly this: the more individuals selected the first mentioned object first, the faster their RTs were (R^2=0.30). A strategy of systematically selecting the left or right object first (ignoring question order) was less prevalent and unrelated to RT. Given that undergraduates are well-trained in extracting relations, we tested a second population that might reveal individual differences: 8-year old children. Again, RT was faster for participants who regularly inspected the first mentioned object first (R^2=0.41). Surprisingly, more children adopted a strategy of selecting the left object first, regardless of the question – these participants tended to be slower (R^2=0.32). We observed both optimal (selecting the first mentioned object) and sub-optimal routines (selecting the left object) for extracting visual relations, with children showing a greater tendency to attend sub-optimally. The order of attentional shifts accounted for a significant amount of variability in RT and thus appears critical for framing 'directionality' of visual relation representations.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2014


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