Attention Goes Both Ways: Shifting Attention Influences Lexical Decisions

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Spatial components of concepts can influence the speed with which peripheral targets are responded to (e.g., the word God speeds responses to targets presented above fixation; devil speeds responses to targets presented below fixation). The basic premise underlying these conceptual cueing effects is that thinking of a spatial metaphor activates an internal spatial representation which in turn influences the allocation of attention in the visual field. An important step forward in understanding conceptual cues is determining whether the underlying process is bidirectional: Do shifts of attention facilitate activation of corresponding conceptual information? To test this, a peripheral cue was used to induce shifts of attention to a peripheral location, and the effect of this shift on concept processing was measured with a standard lexical-decision task in which participants made word/nonword responses to a letter string presented at fixation (Experiments 1 and 3), or with a modified lexical-decision task in which participants made English/Dutch judgments of a word presented auditorily (Experiment 2). If shifts of attention activate spatially compatible concepts, then shifting attention to a peripheral location should speed lexical decisions for spatially compatible concepts such that leftward shifts lead to faster lexical decisions of left relative to right concepts (and likewise for rightward, upward, and downward shifts). Our results support this prediction, suggesting that behaviors in the visual field can influence the activation of internal representations.

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