Sustained attention to objects’ motion sharpens position representations: Attention to changing position and attention to motion are distinct

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In tasks where people monitor moving objects, such the multiple object tracking task (MOT), observers attempt to keep track of targets as they move amongst distracters. The literature is mixed as to whether observers make use of motion information to facilitate performance. We sought to address this by two means: first by superimposing arrows on objects which varied in their informativeness about motion direction and second by asking observers to attend to motion direction. Using a position monitoring task, we calculated mean error magnitudes as a measure of the precision with which target positions are represented. We also calculated perceptual lags versus extrapolated reports, which are the times at which positions of targets best match position reports. We find that the presence of motion information in the form of superimposed arrows made no difference to position report precision nor perceptual lag. However, when we explicitly instructed observers to attend to motion, we saw facilitatory effects on position reports and in some cases reports that best matched extrapolated rather than lagging positions for small set sizes. The results indicate that attention to changing positions does not automatically recruit attention to motion, showing a dissociation between sustained attention to changing positions and attention to motion.

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