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Percept Mot Skills. 2003 Oct;97(2):560-8.

Surveying a blank field with the attentional spotlight.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University of California at Los Angeles, School of Medicine, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, 90073, USA.


Spatial localization is a unique aspect of selective attention that precedes and facilitates other aspects of sensory processing. A common model of spatial attention is an attentional spotlight that enlarges to fit attentional demands. It is unclear if this attentional spotlight expands to survey a blank field or to scan the spatial environment with a smaller attentional spotlight. Two tachistoscopic experiments with young adults investigated how attention is surveyed in a blank field. Exp. 1 consisted of single letters at two concentric regions and under different conditions of attentional demand. Reaction times were proportionally slower for stimuli occurring in a combination of the two regions located at different distances from the fixation point than for stimuli occurring in each region alone. This finding is not consistent with attentional spread to encompass the entire attentional field. The addition of more stimulus locations within each single region yielded significantly slower reaction times. Together these findings suggest that a small attentional spotlight serially monitors different regions of the visual field when there are anticipated locations to be attended.

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