The effect of apparent distance on peripheral target detection
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Previous research suggests that peripheral target detection is modulated by viewing distance and distance simulated by pictorial cues and optic flow. In the latter case, it is unclear what cues contribute to the effect of distance. The current study evaluated the effect of distance on peripheral detection in a virtual three-dimensional environment. Experiments 1-3 used a continuous, dynamic central task that simulated observers traveling either actively or passively through a virtual environment following a car. Peripheral targets were flashed on checkerboard-covered walls to the left and right of the path of motion, at a near and a far distance from the observer. The retinal characteristics of the targets were identical across distances. Experiment 1 found more accurate and faster detection for near targets compared to far targets, especially for larger eccentricities. Experiment 2 equated the predictability of target onset across distances and found the near advantage for larger eccentricities in accuracy but a much smaller effect in reaction time (RT). Experiment 3 removed the checkerboard background implemented in Experiments 1 and 2, and Experiment 4 manipulated several static, monocular cues. Experiments 3 and 4 found that the variation in the density of the checkerboard backgrounds could explain the main effect of distance on accuracy but could not completely account for the interaction between target distance and eccentricity. These results suggest that attention is modulated by target distance, but the effect is small. Finally, there were consistent divided attention costs in the central car-following task but not the peripheral detection task.
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