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Tashauna Blankenship, Roger Strong, Melissa Kibbe; Multiple object tracking via sustained multifocal attention in children. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):780. doi: 10.1167/18.10.780.
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Multiple-object tracking (MOT) is the process of maintaining the location of multiple moving objects among distractors. Successful tracking requires flexible endogenous control of attention, an ability that undergoes considerable development throughout middle childhood (Ridderinkhof & van der Stelt, 2000; Rueda et al., 2004). Previous work suggests that 6-year-old children can successfully track up to two targets during a MOT task (Trick, Jaspers-Fayer, & Sethi, 2005). Unclear, however, is whether children have the ability to use sustained multifocal attention to track multiple targets, or instead use strategies that permit tracking with a single focus of attention (Yantis, 1992), such as grouping or serially foveating individual targets. We created a MOT task for children ages 6-7 years (M = 6.67, SD = .52), designed so that tracking using such grouping or switching strategies would be difficult. The task was presented as a game, where the goal was to feed an animal (presented at fixation) its favorite food, represented by dots. On each trial, participants saw four dots presented in two pairs, each consisting of 1 target (the animal's favorite food, indicated by a brief flash prior to object movement) and 1 distractor. The target/distractor pairs began orbiting in diagonally opposite quadrants of the screen, and then shifted either vertically or horizontally to the previously unoccupied quadrants (while continuing to orbit). Children were then probed on one of the pairs and asked to select the target. Because each target was always closely grouped with a distractor, tracking using strategies that require grouping targets or briefly removing attention from targets should be difficult. Nevertheless, participants performed well above chance (50%) levels (M = 95%, t(5) = 22.70, p< .001). These findings suggest that 6-7-year-olds can track using multifocal attention, and that our tracking task can be used to study the development of this ability.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018
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