The exogenous and endogenous control of attentional focusing
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Selective visual attention involves prioritizing both the location (orienting) and distribution (focusing) of processing. To date, much more research has examined attentional orienting than focusing. One of the most well-established findings is that orienting can be exogenous, as when a unique change in luminance draws attention to a spatial location (e.g., Theeuwes in Atten Percept Psychophys 51:599–606, 1992; Yantis and Jonides in J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 10:601, 1984), and endogenous, as when a red distractor shape diverts attention when one is looking for a red target (e.g., Bacon and Egeth in Percept Psychophys 55:485–496, 1994; Folk et al. in J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 18:1030, 1992). Here we ask whether attentional focusing—the broadening and contracting of prioritized processing—is influenced by the same two factors. Our methodology involved a dual-stream attentional blink task; participants monitored two spatially separated streams of items for two targets that could appear unpredictably either in the same stream or in opposite streams. The spatial distribution of attention was assessed by examining second-target accuracy in relation to inter-target lag and target location (same or opposite streams). In Experiment 1, we found that attentional contracting was more rapid when the targets differed in luminance from the distractor items. In Experiments 2 and 3, we found that the rate of attentional contracting was slower when there were task-relevant distractors in the stream opposite the first target. These results indicate that the rate of attentional focusing, like orienting, can be modulated by both exogenous and endogenous mechanisms.
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Sensory Processes, Perception and Performance