Evidence of fixed capacity in visual object categorization

  • Scharff A
  • Palmer J
  • Moore C
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How is visual object perception limited by divided attention? Whereas some theories have proposed that it is not limited at all (unlimited capacity), others have proposed that divided attention introduces restrictive capacity limitations or serial processing (fixed capacity). We addressed this question using a task in which observers searched for instances of particular object categories, such as a moose or squirrel. We applied an extended simultaneous-sequential paradigm to test the fixed-capacity and unlimited-capacity models (Experiment 1). The results were consistent with fixed capacity and rejected unlimited capacity. We ascertained that these results were due to attention, and not to sensory interactions such as crowding, by repeating the experiment using a cuing paradigm with physically identical displays (Experiment 2). The results from both experiments were consistent with theories of object perception that have fixed capacity, and they rejected theories with unlimited capacity. Both serial and parallel models with fixed capacity remain viable alternatives.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Capacity limitations
  • Divided attention
  • Object recognition
  • Simultaneous-sequential paradigm
  • Visual search

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  • Alec Scharff

  • John Palmer

  • Cathleen M. Moore

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