Allocation of visual attention to spatial locations: tradeoff functions for event-related brain potentials and detection performance

G R Mangun and S A Hillyard (1990). Percept Psychophys, 47(6):532-50.

Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded in response to unilateral arrays of letters flashed in rapid, randomized sequences to left and right visual field locations. Subjects were required to focus attention exclusively on eitherleft or right field stimuli, or to divide attention in different proportions between the two fields, with the aim of detecting infrequent target letters. Both d’ and percent hits for target detections increased significantly as attentionalallocation to a stimulus location increased. Attention operating characteristic (AOC) curves for the target detection scores were highly similar in form to those for the amplitudes of the long-latency, endogenous ERP components–N350-650 and P400-800 (P300). All of these measures showed gradual, nearly rectangular tradeoff functions. In contrast, the AOC curves for the early sensory-evoked components displayed steep, nearly linear amplitude tradeoffs as attention was increasingly allocated to one visual field at the expense of the other. The early and late ERP components were considered as indices of separate but interacting levels of attentional selection having different operating principles.

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