, Volume 67, Issue 7, pp 1140-1149

The role of closure in defining the “objects” of object-based attention

Abstract

Many recent studies have concluded that the underlying units of visual attention are often discrete objects whose boundaries constrain the allocation of attention. However, relatively few studies have explored the particular stimulus cues that determine what counts as an “object” of attention. We explore this issue in the context of the two-rectangles stimuli previously used by many investigators. We first show, using both spatial-cuing and divided-attention paradigms, that same-object advantages occur even when the ends of the two rectangles are not drawn. This is consistent with previous reports that have emphasized the importance of individual contours in guiding attention, and our study shows that such effects can occur in displays that also contain grouping cues. In our divided-attention experiment, however, this contour-driven same-object advantage was significantly weaker than that obtained with the standard stimulus, with the added cue of closure—demonstrating that contour-based processes are not the whole story. These results confirm and extend the observation that same-object advantages can be observed even without full-fledged objects. At the same time, however, these studies show that boundary closure—one of the most important cues to objecthood per se—can directly influence attention. We conclude that object-based attention is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon; object-based effects can be independently strengthened or weakened by multiple cues to objecthood.