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Jan Brascamp, Cheng Stella Qian, Alexis Mareschi; Do we understand the paradoxical effect of attention on visual adaptation?. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):1109. doi: 10.1167/18.10.1109.
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Withdrawing attention from an image can paradoxically make its subsequent negative afterimage more vivid. Existing literature (e.g. Suzuki & Grabowecky, 2003, JEP:HPP 29(4)) suggests the following explanation: besides causing an afterimage, adaptation also reduces visual sensitivity, and withdrawing attention from an adapter may primarily act to minimize this sensitivity reduction. The enhanced vividness, under this account, would thus reflect higher sensitivity. A cartoon that illustrates this explanation is one in which afterimages arise early (say, subcortically), but are 'viewed' by the observer through a later channel, whose sensitivity is affected during adaptation. Here we investigated whether the paradoxical effect of attention also occurs for other visual adaptation phenomena, namely the tilt aftereffect and the motion aftereffect. We were particularly motivated by the consideration that the above cartoon, although roughly appropriate for afterimages, does not obviously generalize to those phenomena, suggesting neither does the paradoxical effect. We applied the same attention manipulation in three conditions involving afterimages, tilt aftereffects and motion aftereffects, respectively. In each case we varied the strength of a nuller stimulus to construct psychometric curves, plotting the proportion of trials where the nuller outweighed the aftereffect as a function of this strength. The mean of such a curve indicates aftereffect strength (i.e. the amount of nulling needed to cancel it), whereas the slope indexes sensitivity. To our surprise, we obtained similar results for all conditions: withdrawing attention from the adapting display resulted in a lower mean, indicating a weaker aftereffect, but also in a steeper slope, indicating superior sensitivity. Our results suggest that a situation as sketched in our cartoon also applies to tilt aftereffects and motion aftereffects. They furthermore imply that the paradoxical effect of inattention, enhanced aftereffect vividness, can also arise for those aftereffects, namely in situations where the superior visual sensitivity outweighs the weakened aftereffect.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018
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