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PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e57365. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057365. Epub 2013 Feb 28.

Spatial and temporal attention modulate the early stages of face processing: behavioural evidence from a reaching paradigm.

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  • 1Department of Cognitive Science, ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


A presently unresolved question within the face perception literature is whether attending to the location of a face modulates face processing (i.e. spatial attention). Opinions on this matter diverge along methodological lines - where neuroimaging studies have observed that the allocation of spatial attention serves to enhance the neural response to a face, findings from behavioural paradigms suggest face processing is carried out independently of spatial attention. In the present study, we reconcile this divide by using a continuous behavioural response measure that indexes face processing at a temporal resolution not available in discrete behavioural measures (e.g. button press). Using reaching trajectories as our response measure, we observed that although participants were able to process faces both when attended and unattended (as others have found), face processing was not impervious to attentional modulation. Attending to the face conferred clear benefits on sex-classification processes at less than 350ms of stimulus processing time. These findings constitute the first reliable demonstration of the modulatory effects of both spatial and temporal attention on face processing within a behavioural paradigm.

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