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J Vis. 2009 Oct 5;9(11):3.1-30. doi: 10.1167/9.11.3.

No capacity limit in attentional tracking: evidence for probabilistic inference under a resource constraint.

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Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA.


Human ability to simultaneously track multiple items declines with set size. This effect is commonly attributed to a fixed limit on the number of items that can be attended to, a notion that is formalized in limited-capacity and slot models. Instead, we propose that observers are constrained by stimulus uncertainty that increases with the number of items but use Bayesian inference to achieve optimal performance. We model five data sets from published deviation discrimination experiments that varied set size, number of deviations, and magnitude of deviation. A constrained Bayesian observer better explains each data set than do the traditional limited-capacity model, the recently proposed slots-plus-averaging model, a fixed-uncertainty Bayesian model, a Bayesian model with capacity limit, and a simple averaging model. This indicates that the notion of limited capacity in attentional tracking needs to be revised. Moreover, it supports the idea that Bayesian optimality of human perception extends to high-level perceptual computations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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