A Competitive Interaction Theory of Attentional Selection and Decision Making in Brief, Multielement Displays

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Abstract

We generalize the integrated system model of Smith and Ratcliff (2009) to obtain a new theory of attentional selection in brief, multielement visual displays. The theory proposes that attentional selection occurs via competitive interactions among detectors that signal the presence of task-relevant features at particular display locations. The outcome of the competition, together with attention, determines which stimuli are selected into visual short-term memory (VSTM). Decisions about the contents of VSTM are made by a diffusion-process decision stage. The selection process is modeled by coupled systems of shunting equations, which perform gated where-on-what pathway VSTM selection. The theory provides a computational account of key findings from attention tasks with near-threshold stimuli. These are (a) the success of the MAX model of visual search and spatial cuing, (b) the distractor homogeneity effect, (c) the double-target detection deficit, (d) redundancy costs in the post-stimulus probe task, (e) the joint item and information capacity limits of VSTM, and (f) the object-based nature of attentional selection. We argue that these phenomena are all manifestations of an underlying competitive VSTM selection process, which arise as a natural consequence of our theory.

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