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Tashauna L Blankenship, Roger W Strong, Melissa M Kibbe; Development of children’s capacity for multiple object tracking via multifocal attention. Journal of Vision 2019;19(10):269b. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/19.10.269b.
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By at least 6 years of age, children can engage in sustained, multifocal attention to track two moving objects among distractors (Blankenship, Strong, & Kibbe, 2018). Less is known about the development of this ability and its capacity in childhood. We investigated the development (Experiment 1) and capacity (Experiment 2) of multiple object tracking via multifocal attention in children. In Experiment 1, children ages 6-10-years were tasked with feeding an animal (presented at fixation) its favorite food (targets). On each trial, participants saw four dots presented in pairs; each pair consisted of one target and one distractor. The targets briefly flashed, and then target and distractor objects within each pair orbited each other while the pairs shifted across the screen. Children were then probed on one of the pairs and asked to select the target. The targets and distractors were paired to make tracking by grouping cues or by serial foveation difficult (Yantis, 1992). At all ages, children selected the target at above chance levels (all ps< .001), with 7-10-year-olds performing near ceiling. Six-year-olds performed worse than 7-, 8-, 9-, and 10-year-olds (p< 0.001), and there was no difference in performance between 7- and 10-years, suggesting multifocal attention may undergo significant development between 6- and 7-years of age. In Experiment 2 we focused on 6-8-year-olds, and examined how increasing the number of targets and distractors impacted children’s ability to track multiple objects via sustained multifocal attention. The task design was similar to Experiment 1, except the number of targets (1–4) and distractors (7–4) varied. Data collection is ongoing, but results suggest a decline in performance as the number of targets increases, with poorer performance for tracking 3 and 4 targets versus 1 or 2. Together, these results shed light on the development and capacity of multifocal attention across childhood.
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