Feature-based attentional modulation increases with stimulus separation in divided-attention tasks.
ABSTRACT Attention modifies our visual experience by selecting certain aspects of a scene for further processing. It is therefore important to understand factors that govern the deployment of selective attention over the visual field. Both location and feature-specific mechanisms of attention have been identified and their modulatory effects can interact at a neural level (Treue and Martinez-Trujillo, 1999). The effects of spatial parameters on feature-based attentional modulation were examined for the feature dimensions of orientation, motion and color using three divided-attention tasks. Subjects performed concurrent discriminations of two briefly presented targets (Gabor patches) to the left and right of a central fixation point at eccentricities of +/-2.5 degrees , 5 degrees , 10 degrees and 15 degrees in the horizontal plane. Gabors were size-scaled to maintain consistent single-task performance across eccentricities. For all feature dimensions, the data show a linear increase in the attentional effects with target separation. In a control experiment, Gabors were presented on an isoeccentric viewing arc at 10 degrees and 15 degrees at the closest spatial separation (+/-2.5 degrees ) of the main experiment. Under these conditions, the effects of feature-based attentional effects were largely eliminated. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that feature-based attention prioritizes the processing of attended features. Feature-based attentional mechanisms may have helped direct the attentional focus to the appropriate target locations at greater separations, whereas similar assistance may not have been necessary at closer target spacings. The results of the present study specify conditions under which dual-task performance benefits from sharing similar target features and may therefore help elucidate the processes by which feature-based attention operates.