Attention flexibly trades off across points in time

Rachel N. Denison, David J. Heeger, Marisa Carrasco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sensory signals continuously enter the brain, raising the question of how perceptual systems handle this constant flow of input. Attention to an anticipated point in time can prioritize visual information at that time. However, how we voluntarily attend across time when there are successive task-relevant stimuli has been barely investigated. We developed a novel experimental protocol that allowed us to assess, for the first time, both the benefits and costs of voluntary temporal attention when perceiving a short sequence of two or three visual targets with predictable timing. We found that when humans directed attention to a cued point in time, their ability to perceive orientation was better at that time but also worse earlier and later. These perceptual tradeoffs across time are analogous to those found across space for spatial attention. We concluded that voluntary attention is limited, and selective, across time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1142-1151
Number of pages10
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 4 2017


  • Selective attention
  • Temporal attention
  • Visual perception
  • Voluntary attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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