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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2015 Feb;41(1):86-101. doi: 10.1037/xhp0000019. Epub 2014 Dec 8.

Rapid parallel attentional target selection in single-color and multiple-color visual search.

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Department of Psychological Sciences.


Previous work has demonstrated that when targets are defined by a constant feature, attention can be directed rapidly and in parallel to sequentially presented target objects at different locations. We assessed how fast attention is allocated to multiple objects when this process cannot be controlled by a unique color-specific attentional template. N2pc components were measured as temporal markers of the attentional selection of 2 color-defined targets that were presented in rapid succession. Both targets either had the same color (one color task) or differed in color (two color task). Although there were small but systematic delays of target selection in the two color task relative to the one color task, attention was allocated extremely rapidly to both target objects in the two color task, which is inconsistent with the hypothesis that their selection was based on a slow switch between different color templates. Two follow-up experiments demonstrated that these delays did not reflect template switch costs, but were the result of competitive interactions between simultaneously active attentional templates. These results show that the control of focal attention during multiple-feature search operates much faster and more flexibly than is usually assumed.

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