Hierarchical Navigation of Visual Attention: Orienting and Focusing Within and Between Hierarchically Structured Objects

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This study explored the dynamics of attentional navigation between two hierarchically structured objects. Three experiments examined a Hierarchical Attentional Navigation (HAN) hypothesis, by which attentional navigation between two visual stimuli is constrained to follow the path linking the two stimuli in a hierarchical object-based representation. Presented with two adjacent compound-letter objects on each trial, participants successively identified the letter(s) at the specified hierarchical level (global or local) of the origin and destination object, respectively: local-local (Experiment 1), global-local (Experiment 2a), or local-global (Experiment 2b). The organizational complexity of the objects (2-level structure vs. 3-level structure) and their global size (large vs. small) were orthogonally manipulated. Results were generally consistent with the HAN hypothesis: overall response latency was positively related to the number of intervening levels of hierarchical object structure linking the two target levels. Hierarchical navigation was also suggested by the pattern of global size effects. The usefulness of the HAN framework for interpreting these and related findings in attention research is discussed.

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