The Guidance of Spatial Attention During Visual Search for Color Combinations and Color Configurations

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Representations of target-defining features (attentional templates) guide the selection of target objects in visual search. We used behavioral and electrophysiological measures to investigate how such search templates control the allocation of attention in search tasks where targets are defined by the combination of 2 colors or by a specific spatial configuration of these colors. Target displays were preceded by spatially uninformative cue displays that contained items in 1 or both target-defining colors. Experiments 1 and 2 demonstrated that, during search for color combinations, attention is initially allocated independently and in parallel to all objects with target-matching colors, but is then rapidly withdrawn from objects that only have 1 of the 2 target colors. In Experiment 3, targets were defined by a particular spatial configuration of 2 colors, and could be accompanied by nontarget objects with a different configuration of the same colors. Attentional guidance processes were unable to distinguish between these 2 types of objects. Both attracted attention equally when they appeared in a cue display, and both received parallel focal-attentional processing and were encoded into working memory when they were presented in the same target display. Results demonstrate that attention can be guided simultaneously by multiple features from the same dimension, but that these guidance processes have no access to the spatial-configural properties of target objects. They suggest that attentional templates do not represent target objects in an integrated pictorial fashion, but contain separate representations of target-defining features.

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