Letter Localization, Not Discrimination, Is Constrained by Attention.
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Shaw (1984; Shaw, Mulligan & Stone, 1983) measured the probability of detecting a target letter in displays containing different numbers of items. The set size effect was significantly larger than the effect predicted by unlimited-capacity models of visual processing, and Shaw concluded that attention constrains the discrimination of complex, but not simple, patterns. We re-examined the role of attention in letter discrimination by measuring the effect of set size on the contrast needed to identify a target embedded among distractors. The results of 5 experiments show that set size effects are small for letter discrimination, but large for letter localization. The findings suggest that the large set size effect reported by Shaw (1984) was a result of asking subjects to localize the target. In addition, the results are consistent with the hypothesis that limited processing capacity constrains the perceptual processes involved in letter localization, but not discrimination.
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