Attentional cartography: mapping the distribution of attention across time and space
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Decades of research have shown that the orienting of attention follows a reliable pattern of facilitation and then inhibition following a peripheral cue. However, the literature lacks a high-resolution spatiotemporal map of this pattern. Moreover, the use of visual placeholders to highlight potential stimulus locations is inconsistent. This is puzzling, given attention's well-known predilection for objects. In this article, we remedy these outstanding issues with a large-scale investigation charting the spatiotemporal distribution of attention. Participants detected targets presented at 121 possible locations 100, 200, 400, or 800 ms following an uninformative peripheral cue. The cued locations were presented with or without placeholders. With placeholders, the classic pattern of early facilitation and late inhibition was observed for targets appearing within the placeholders, and the spread of inhibition was severely limited to within the placeholders. Without placeholders, we observed inhibition shortly after cue presentation, upsetting the famously reliable effect of facilitation following a cue. Moreover, inhibition spread from the cued location, unlike when placeholders were present. This investigation has produced an eminently detailed spatiotemporal map of attentional orienting and illustrated the consequences of placeholder stimuli, with surprising results.
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