How Much of a Scene is Seen? The Role of Attention in Scene Perception
R.A. Rensink, Cambridge Basic Research, Nissan Research & Development, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, 38:707. 1997. [ARVO 1997; Ft. Lauderdale, FL.]

A striking blindness to changes in real-world scenes can be induced using a variety of techniques (e.g., saccade-, blink-, or flicker-contingent change). The strength and robustness of this phenomenon points towards the involvement of mechanisms central to visual perception. It is proposed here that this induced change blindness can be explained by an attentional gating theory (AGT):

*Parts of the scene that are given focused attention are gated from the visual buffer into a limited durable store; this allows them to form objects that are perceived to undergo transformation when the stimulus changes.

*In the absence of focused attention, the contents of the visual buffer are not gated to the durable store, but are simply overwritten (i.e., replaced) by subsequent stimuli; as such, they are not available for making comparisons.

AGT points to strong links between attention, eye movements, visual memory, and scene perception. For example, it supports the idea that a saccade target must be attended prior to the saccade. It also supports the idea that trans-saccadic memory is exactly the limited store used by other visual processes. Finally, the limited capacity of the durable store is consistent with limits on the amount of an observer's surroundings represented in detail at any time. This view implies that our perception of the world is mediated by a virtual representation that provides us with what we need, but only when we need it. It also implies that an important role of attention is to coordinate operations so that this representation appears to us as real, i.e., that all objects in the scene are represented in detail simultaneously.

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