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    Spatial filtering restricts the attentional window during both singleton and feature-based visual search

    Berggren, Nick and Eimer, Martin (2020) Spatial filtering restricts the attentional window during both singleton and feature-based visual search. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics , ISSN 1943-3921. (In Press)

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    Abstract

    We investigated whether spatial filtering can restrict attentional selectivity during visual search to a currently task-relevant attentional window. While effective filtering has been demonstrated during singleton search, feature-based attention is believed to operate spatially globally across the entire visual field. To test whether spatial filtering depends on search mode, we assessed its efficiency both during feature-guided search with colour-defined targets and during singleton search tasks. Search displays were preceded by spatial cues. Participants responded to target objects at cued/relevant locations, and ignored them when they appeared on the uncued/irrelevant side. In four experiments, electrophysiological markers of attentional selection and distractor suppression (N2pc and PD components) were measured for relevant and irrelevant target-matching objects. During singleton search, N2pc components were triggered by relevant target singletons, but were entirely absent for singletons on the irrelevant side, demonstrating effective spatial filtering. Critically, similar results were found for feature-based search. N2pcs to irrelevant target-colour objects were either absent or strongly attenuated (when these objects were salient), indicating that the feature-based guidance of visual search can be restricted to relevant locations. The presence of PD components to salient objects on the irrelevant side during feature-based and singleton search suggests that spatial filtering involves active distractor suppression. These results challenge the assumption that feature-based attentional guidance is always spatially global. They suggest instead that when advance information about target locations becomes available, effective spatial filtering processes are activated transiently not only in singleton search, but also during search for feature-defined targets.

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