, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 127-135

Attentional focussing and spatial stimulus-response compatibility

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Summary

The relative functional significance of attention shifts and attentional zooming for the coding of stimulus position in spatial compatibility tasks is demonstrated by proposing and testing experimentally a tentative explanation of the absence of a Simon effect in Experiment 3 of Umiltà and Liotti (1987). It is assumed that the neutral point of the spatial frame of reference for coding spatial position is at the position where attention is focussed immediately before exposition of the stimulus pattern. If a stimulus pattern is exposed to the right or the left of this position a spatial compatibility effect can be observed when the stimulus-response pairing is incompatible. Generalizing from this, one can say that a spatial compatibility effect will be observed if the last step in attentional focussing of the stimulus attribute specifying the response is a horizontal or a vertical attention shift. If the last step in focussing is attentional zooming (change in the representational level attended to), the stimulus pattern is localized at the horizontal and the vertical positions where the last attention shift had positioned the focus. In this case the spatial code is neutral on these dimensions and so no spatial compatibility effect should result. To test this model we conducted two experiments. Experiment 1 replicated the finding of Umiltà and Liotti that there is no Simon effect in the condition with no delay between a positional cue (two small boxes on the left or right of a fixation cross) and the imperative stimulus, whereas in the condition with a delay of 500 ms a Simon effect was observed. In a comparison condition with a single, rather large cue instead of two small boxes (forcing attention to zoom in), no Simon effect was observed under either delay condition. Experiment 2 used a spatial compatibility task proper with the same experimental conditions as Experiment 1. But in contrast to those of Experiment 1, the results show strong compatibility effects in all cue and delay conditions. The absence of a Simon effect in some experimental conditions in Experiment 1 and the presence of a spatial compatibility effect proper in all conditions in Experiment 2 are consistently accounted for with the proposed attentional explanation of spatial coding and spatial compatibility effects.