Stimulus competition mediates the joint effects of spatial and feature-based attention

Alex L. White, Martin Rolfs, Marisa Carrasco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Distinct attentional mechanisms enhance the sensory processing of visual stimuli that appear at task-relevant locations and have task-relevant features. We used a combination of psychophysics and computational modeling to investigate how these two types of attention-spatial and feature based-interact to modulate sensitivity when combined in one task. Observers monitored overlapping groups of dots for a target change in color saturation, which they had to localize as being in the upper or lower visual hemifield. Pre-cues indicated the target's most likely location (left/ right), color (red/green), or both location and color. We measured sensitivity (d0) for every combination of the location cue and the color cue, each of which could be valid, neutral, or invalid. When three competing saturation changes occurred simultaneously with the target change, there was a clear interaction: The spatial cueing effect was strongest for the cued color, and the color cueing effect was strongest at the cued location. In a second experiment, only the target dot group changed saturation, such that stimulus competition was low. The resulting cueing effects were statistically independent and additive: The color cueing effect was equally strong at attended and unattended locations. We account for these data with a computational model in which spatial and feature-based attention independently modulate the gain of sensory responses, consistent with measurements of cortical activity. Multiple responses then compete via divisive normalization. Sufficient competition creates interactions between the two cueing effects, although the attentional systems are themselves independent. This model helps reconcile seemingly disparate behavioral and physiological findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number14
StatePublished - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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