Reflexive and Voluntary Orienting of Visual Attention: Time Course of Activation and Resistance to Interruption

  • Müller H
  • Rabbitt P
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Abstract

To study the mechanisms underlying covert orienting of attention in visual space, subjects were given advance cues indicating the probable locations of targets that they had to discriminate and localize. Direct peripheral cues (brightening of one of four boxes in peripheral vision) and symbolic central cues (an arrow at the fixation point indicating a probable peripheral box) were compared. Peripheral and central cues are believed to activate different reflexive and voluntary modes of orienting (Jonides, 1981; Posner, 1980). Experiment 1 showed that the time courses of facilitation and inhibition from peripheral and central cues were characteristic and different. Experiment 2 showed that voluntary orienting in response to symbolic central cues is interrupted by reflexive orienting to random peripheral flashes. Experiment 3 showed that irrelevant peripheral flashes also compete with relevant peripheral cues. The amount of interference varied systematically with the interval between the onset of the relevant cue and of the distracting flash (cue-flash onset asynchrony) and with the cuing condition. Taken together, these effects support a model for spatial attention with distinct but interacting reflexive and voluntary orienting mechanisms.

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