Perception & Psychophysics

, Volume 65, Issue 2, pp 202–212 | Cite as

Contrasting effects of sensory limits and capacity limits in visual selective attention

  • Nilli LavieEmail author
  • Jan W. De Fockert


The effects of perceptual load and those of target-stimulus degradation on distractor processing were contrasted. Targets either had to be found among several nontargets (high perceptual load) or were presented alone and were intact (low perceptual load), had reduced size and contrast (Experiment 1), had reduced duration and were followed by a mask (Experiment 2), or had reduced visual acuity owing to position eccentricity (Experiment 3) in thedegraded low-load condition. The results showed that both high perceptual load and target degradation increased general task difficulty, as is reflected by overall reaction times and accuracy. However, whereas high perceptual load reduced response-competition effects of irrelevant distractors, target degradation increased distractor effects. These results support the hypothesis that distractor processing depends on the extent to which high perceptual load exhausts attention in relevant processing, and provide a dissociation between perceptual load and general task difficulty and processing speed.


Task Difficulty Target Letter Negative Priming Perceptual Load Distractor Effect 
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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity College LondonLondonEngland
  2. 2.Goldsmiths CollegeUniversity of LondonLondonEngland

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