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Michael Puntiroli, Dirk Kerzel, Sabine Born; Placeholder objects shape spatial attention effects before eye movements. Journal of Vision 2018;18(6):1. https://doi.org/10.1167/18.6.1.
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In the time leading up to a saccade, the saccade target is perceptually enhanced compared to other objects in the visual field. This enhancement is attributed to a shift of spatial attention toward the target. We examined whether the presence of visual objects is critical for the perceptual enhancement at the saccade target to occur. We hypothesized that attention may need an object to focus on in order to be effective. We conducted four experiments using a dual-task design, where participants performed eye movements either to a location demarked by a placeholder or to an empty screen location where no object was displayed. At the same time, they discriminated a probe flashed at the location targeted by the eye movement or at one of two control locations. A strong perceptual advantage at the saccade target location was observed only when placeholders were displayed at the time of probe presentation. The complete absence of placeholders (Experiment 1), the presence of placeholders before but not during probe presentation (Experiment 3), and the presence of objects only around the saccade target (Experiments 3 and 4) led to a strong reduction in the saccade-target benefit. We conclude that placeholders may indeed be necessary to observe presaccadic enhancement at the saccade target. However, this is not because placeholders provide an object to focus attention on, but rather because they produce a masking (or crowding) effect. This detrimental effect is overcome by the presaccadic shift of attention, resulting in heightened perception only at the saccade target object.
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