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Spatial extent of attention to letters and words.


The spatial extent of attention to visually presented letters and words was investigated using a probe technique. The primary task required subjects to categorize (a) five-letter words, or to categorize the middle letter of (b) five-letter words or (c) five-letter nonwords. The probe task required the subjects to respond when the digit 7 appeared in one of the five letter positions. Probe trials were inserted at the onset of letter and word processing in Experiment 1 and 500 msec after letter and word processing in Experiment 2. In both experiments, probe trials produced a V-shaped function of reaction times across probe positions for the letter-categorization task for word and nonword stimulus conditions. In contrast, a relatively flat reaction time function was found for the word-categorization tasks. An analysis of the data based on a quantitative model of attentional spotlight distributions suggests that the spotlight width in the letter tasks is one letter space, and the spotlight width in the word task is typically five spaces.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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