A variable mapping task produces symmetrical interference between global information and local information
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When processing global and local aspects of compound visual figures, a robust finding is that global targets are detected faster and more accurately than local targets. Moreover, unidirectional interference is often observed. Despite the convincing evidence that global information and local information are available together, when attention is focused on the global level, items from the local level often have very little, if any, effect on behavior. If local information is available with global information, then why is global dominance so often observed under such a wide range of conditions? This paper is concerned with the fate of the ignored, and apparently ineffective, local distractors. In our experiments, at least one critical factor was stimulus-response (S-R) mapping. We compared a consistent S-R task, which facilitated a speed advantage for global, with a variable S-R task, which required a higher degree of semantic analysis for each stimulus. The two tasks produced large differences in behavior, showing unidirectional interference in the consistent S-R task, and strong bidirectional interference in the variable S-R task. Thus, the identity of ignored local distractors was available, even under conditions that favored focused attention to global information. The results provide support for a model in which global processing proceeds more quickly at early perceptual stages and in which local processing can catch up if processing demands are increased at later stages.