Attentional Processing of Geometric Figures
Ronald A. Rensink, Cambridge Basic Research, Nissan Research & Development, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Perception, 28(suppl.):55-56. [ECVP 1999; Trieste, Italy.]

Focused attention is needed to perceive change (Rensink et al., 1997; Psychological Science, 8: 368-373) . But how much attentional processing is given to an item? And does this depend on the nature of the task?

To answer these questions, "flicker" displays were created, where an original and a modified image continually alternated, with brief blanks between them. Each image was an array of simple figures, half being horizontal and the other half vertical. In half the trials, one of the items changed orientation; in the remainder, all items remained the same. Observers were asked to detect whether a change was occurring in each trial. Within-observer comparisons for different shapes of items yielded two classes of speed: relatively fast search (50 ms/item) for simple lines, and slower search (90 ms/item) for compound figures made of two or more lines. Evidently, more processing was given to compound figures, even though shape was irrelevant to the task.

A similar set of experiments asked observers to detect changes in contrast polarity. Here, no differences were found for different shapes, indicating that geometric information is not processed as much when the task involves only nongeometric properties.

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