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J Vis. 2007 Aug 23;7(11):5.1-9.

Attention changes perceived size of moving visual patterns.

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Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, German Primate Center, Goettingen, Germany.


Spatial attention shifts receptive fields in monkey extrastriate visual cortex toward the focus of attention (S. Ben Hamed, J. R. Duhamel, F. Bremmer, & W. Graf, 2002; C. E. Connor, J. L. Gallant, D. C. Preddie, & D. C. Van Essen, 1996; C. E. Connor, D. C. Preddie, J. L. Gallant, & D. C. Van Essen, 1997; T. Womelsdorf, K. Anton-Erxleben, F. Pieper, & S. Treue, 2006). This distortion in the retinotopic distribution of receptive fields might cause distortions in spatial perception such as an increase of the perceived size of attended stimuli. Here we test for such an effect in human subjects by measuring the point of subjective equality (PSE) for the perceived size of a neutral and an attended stimulus when drawing automatic attention to one of two spatial locations. We found a significant increase in perceived size of attended stimuli. Depending on the absolute stimulus size, this effect ranged from 4% to 12% and was more pronounced for smaller than for larger stimuli. In our experimental design, an attentional effect on task difficulty or a cue bias might influence the PSE measure. We performed control experiments and indeed found such effects, but they could only account for part of the observed results. Our findings demonstrate that the allocation of transient spatial attention onto a visual stimulus increases its perceived size and additionally biases subjects to select this stimulus for a perceptual judgment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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