Modulation of visual attention by object affordance

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Some objects in our environment are strongly tied to motor actions, a phenomenon called object affordance. A cup, for example, affords us to reach out to it and grasp it by its handle. Studies indicate that merely viewing an affording object triggers motor activations in the brain. The present study investigated whether object affordance would also result in an attention bias, that is, whether observers would rather attend to graspable objects within reach compared to non-graspable but reachable objects or to graspable objects out of reach. To this end, we conducted a combined reaction time and motion tracking study with a table in a virtual three-dimensional space. Two objects were positioned on the table, one near, the other one far from the observer. In each trial, two graspable objects, two non-graspable objects, or a combination of both was presented. Participants were instructed to detect a probe appearing on one of the objects as quickly as possible. Detection times served as indirect measure of attention allocation. The motor association with the graspable object was additionally enhanced by having participants grasp a real object in some of the trials. We hypothesized that visual attention would be preferentially allocated to the near graspable object, which should be reflected in reduced reaction times in this condition. Our results confirm this assumption: probe detection was fastest at the graspable object at the near position compared to the far position or to a non-graspable object. A follow-up experiment revealed that in addition to object affordance per se, immediate graspability of an affording object may also influence this near-space advantage. Our results suggest that visuospatial attention is preferentially allocated to affording objects which are immediately graspable, and thus establish a strong link between an object's motor affordance and visual attention. © 2014 Garrido-Vásquez and Schubö.




Garrido-Vásquez, P., & Schubö, A. (2014). Modulation of visual attention by object affordance. Frontiers in Psychology, 5(FEB).

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