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J Vis. 2012 Nov 12;12(12). pii: 6. doi: 10.1167/12.12.6.

Dividing attention between two transparent motion surfaces results in a failure of selective attention.

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Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.


In object-based attention, it is easier to divide attention between features within a single object than between features across objects. In this study we test the prediction of several capacity models in order to best characterize the cost to dividing attention between objects. Here we studied behavioral performance on a divided attention task in which subjects attended to the motion and luminance of overlapping random dot kinemategrams, specifically red upward moving dots superimposed with green downward moving dots. Subjects were required to detect brief changes (transients) in the motion or luminance within the same surface or across different surfaces. There were two primary results. First, the dual-task deficit was large when attention was divided across two surfaces and near zero when attention was divided within a surface. This is consistent with limited-capacity processing across surfaces and unlimited-capacity processing within a surface-a pattern predicted by established theories of object-based attention. Second and unexpectedly, there was evidence of crosstalk between features: when cued to monitor transients on one surface, response rates were inflated by the presence of a transient on the other surface. Such crosstalk is a failure of selective attention between surfaces.

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