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The flanker compatibility effect as a function of visual angle, attentional focus, visual transients, and perceptual load: A search for boundary conditions

Abstract

When subjects must respond to a relevant center letter and ignore irrelevant flanking letters, the identities of the flankers produce a response compatibility effect, indicating that they are processed semantically at least to some extent. Because this effect decreases as the separation between target and flankers increases, the effect appears to result from imperfect early selection (attenuation). In the present experiments, several features of the focused attention paradigm were examined, in order to determine whether they might produce the flanker compatibility effect by interfering with the operation of an early selective mechanism. Specifically, the effect might be produced because the paradigm requires subjects to (1) attend-exclusively stimuli within a very small visual angle, (2) maintain a long-term attentional focus on a constant display location, (3) focus attention on an empty display location, (4) exclude onset-transient flankers from semantic processing, or (5) ignore some of the few stimuli in an impoverished visual field. The results indicate that none of these task features is required for semantic processing of unattended stimuli to occur. In fact, visual angle is the only one of the task features that clearly has a strong influence on the size of the flanker compatibility effect. The invariance of the flanker compatibility effect across these conditions suggests that the mechanism for early selection rarely, if ever, completely excludes unattended stimuli from semantic analysis. In addition, it shows that selective mechanisms are relatively insensitive to several factors that might be expected to influence them, thereby supporting the view that spatial separation has a special status for visual selective attention.

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Correspondence to Jeff Miller.

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This research was supported by Grant PHS-MH40733 from the National Institute of Mental Health.

A version of this paper was prepared wile the author was a visiting professor at the Department of Psychology of the University of Amsterdam.

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Miller, J. The flanker compatibility effect as a function of visual angle, attentional focus, visual transients, and perceptual load: A search for boundary conditions. Perception & Psychophysics 49, 270–288 (1991). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03214311

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Keywords

  • Target Letter
  • Display Size
  • Rapid Serial Visual Presentation
  • Early Selection
  • Perceptual Load