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Vis cogn. 2006 Aug 1;14(4-8):411-443.

How the deployment of attention determines what we see.

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  • 1Princeton University.


Attention is a tool to adapt what we see to our current needs. It can be focused narrowly on a single object or spread over several or distributed over the scene as a whole. In addition to increasing or decreasing the number of attended objects, these different deployments may have different effects on what we see. This chapter describes some research both on focused attention and its use in binding features, and on distributed attention and the kinds of information we gain and lose with the attention window opened wide. One kind of processing that we suggest occurs automatically with distributed attention results in a statistical description of sets of similar objects. Another gives the gist of the scene, which may be inferred from sets of features registered in parallel. Flexible use of these different modes of attention allows us to reconcile sharp capacity limits with a richer understanding of the visual scene.

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