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Effects of involuntary and voluntary attention on critical spacing of visual crowding.


Visual spatial attention can be allocated in two distinct ways: one that is voluntarily directed to behaviorally relevant locations in the world, and one that is involuntarily captured by salient external stimuli. Precueing spatial attention has been shown to improve perceptual performance on a number of visual tasks. However, the effects of spatial attention on visual crowding, defined as the reduction in the ability to identify target objects in clutter, are far less clear. In this study, we used an anticueing paradigm to separately measure the effects of involuntary and voluntary spatial attention on a crowding task. Each trial began with a brief peripheral cue that predicted that the crowded target would appear on the opposite side of the screen 80% of the time and on the same side of the screen 20% of the time. Subjects performed an orientation discrimination task on a target Gabor patch that was flanked by other similar Gabor patches with independent random orientations. For trials with a short stimulus onset asynchrony between cue and target, involuntary capture of attention led to faster response times and smaller critical spacing when the target appeared on the cue side. For trials with a long stimulus onset asynchrony, voluntary allocation of attention led to faster reaction times but no significant effect on critical spacing when the target appeared on the opposite side to the cue. We additionally found that the magnitudes of these cueing effects of involuntary and voluntary attention were not strongly correlated across subjects for either reaction time or critical spacing.

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