Spatial gradients of visual attention: behavioral and electrophysiological evidence

G R Mangun and S A Hillyard (1988). Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol, 70(5):417-28.

The spatial distribution of visual attention was investigated by measuring target detectability (d’) and event-related brain potentials (ERPs) to stimuli at varying distances from an attended locus. Vertical bars were flashed rapidly in random order to 1 of 3 locations: one in each of the lateral visual fields and one on the vertical meridian above the fixation point. Subjects maintained eye fixation while directing their attention to 1 of the 3 locations for the duration of each 1.75 min run. Their primary task was to detect infrequent, shorter target bars at the attended location. A secondary task was to respond to shorter target bars at either of the 2 unattended locations if they ‘happened to notice them’ (without trying to detect them). ERPs and d’ scores were obtained to the lateral field stimuli both when they were specifically attended (primary task), as well as when attention was focused upon midline or opposite-field flashes (secondary task). Both d’ scores and the amplitudes of the P135 and N190 waves decreased progressively as attention was directed to locations increasingly distant from a given lateral stimulus. These results support ‘gradient’ models of the spatial distribution of visual attention.

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