The Contribution of Covert Attention to the Set-Size and Eccentricity Effects in Visual Search

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To reexamine the role of covert attention in visual search, the authors directly manipulated attention by peripherally cueing the target location and analyzed its effects on the set-size and the eccentricity effects. Observers participated in feature and conjunction tasks. Experiment 1 used precues, and Experiment 2 used postcues in a yes–no task under valid-, invalid-, and neutral-cueing conditions. Experiments 3 and 4 used a 2-interval alternative forced-choice visual-search task under cued and neutral conditions. Precueing the target location improved performance in feature and conjunction searches; postcueing did not. For the cued targets, the eccentricity effect for features and conjunctions was diminished, suggesting that the attentional mechanism improves the quality of the sensory representation of the attended location. The conjunction set-size effect was reduced but not eliminated. This questions serial-search models that attribute a major role to covert attention in visual search.

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