Perception & Psychophysics

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 225–240

Visual attention within and around the field of focal attention: A zoom lens model

  • Charles W. Eriksen
  • James D. St. James

DOI: 10.3758/BF03211502

Cite this article as:
Eriksen, C.W. & St. James, J.D. Perception & Psychophysics (1986) 40: 225. doi:10.3758/BF03211502


The operation of attention in the visual field has often been compared to a spotlight. We propose that a more apt analogy is that of a zoom or variable-power lens. Two experiments focused upon the following questions: (1) Can the spatial extent of the attentional focus be made to vary in response to precues? (2) As the area of the attentional focus increases, is there a decrease in processing efficiency for stimuli within the focus? (3) Is the boundary of the focus sharply demarked from the residual field, or does it show a gradual dropoff in processing resources? Subjects were required to search eight-letter circular displays for one of two target letters and reaction times were recorded. One to four adjacent display positions were precued by underlines at various stimulus onset asynchronies before display presentation. A response competition paradigm was used, in which the “other target” was used as a noise letter in noncued as well as cued locations. The results were in good agreement with the zoom lens model.

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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles W. Eriksen
    • 1
  • James D. St. James
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of IllinoisChampaign

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