Configural and contextual prioritization in object-based attention
When attention is directed to a location within an object, other locations within that object also enjoy an attentional advantage. Recently we demonstrated that this object-based advantage is mediated by increased attentional priority assigned to locations within an already attended object and not to early sensory enhancement due to the “spread” of attention within the attended object (Shomstein & Yantis, 2002). At least two factors might contribute to the assignment of attentional priority, one related to the configuration of objects in a scene and the other related to the probability of target appearance in each location imposed by task contingencies. We investigated the relative contribution of these factors by cuing one end of one of a pair of rectangles; a subsequent target appeared most often in the cued location. We manipulated attentional priority setting by varying (1) the probability that a target would appear in each of two uncued locations and (2) the cue to target stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA). On invalidly cued trials, the target appeared in thehigh-probability location (defined by an absolute spatial location, e.g., upper right) 83% of the time and in thelow-probability location (e.g., lower left) 17% of the time. In both conditions, uncued targets appeared in the cued object half the time and in the uncued object half the time. At short SOAs, the same-object and probability effects were approximately additive. However, at longer SOAs, the same-object effects disappeared, and reaction times depended exclusively on location probability. These results suggest that observers adopt an implicitconfigural scanning strategy (in which unattended locations within an attended object have high priority) or an implicitcontextual scanning strategy (in which objectively high-probability locations have high priority) depending on task contingencies and the amount of time that is available to deploy attention.
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