Stimulus probability directs spatial attention: An enhancement of sensitivity in humans and monkeys

Vivian M. Ciaramitaro, E. Leslie Cameron, Paul W. Glimcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examined whether improvements in sensory processing, defined as changes in sensitivity, could be elicited in a simple luminance discrimination task without eliciting concomitant changes in decision processing. To this end we developed a task, for use in both humans and monkeys, in which prior knowledge about where a discriminative stimulus was likely to appear (1) offered no decisional advantage in solving our task and (2) could be parametrically varied to yield a psychometric function. We found that if we parametrically varied the quality of prior knowledge, by increasing the probability, and thus the certainty, that a discriminative stimulus would appear at a particular location under these conditions, luminance discrimination improved for both human and monkey subjects. This improvement was correlated with an enhancement in sensory processing, but not with any systematic changes in decisional processing, as assessed by signal detection theory. These results suggest that (1) sensory processing and decision processing can be separated by task design and (2) systematic changes in prior knowledge about where a stimulus may appear can lead to systematic changes in sensitivity; providing a psychometric function for the influence of prior knowledge on perceptual sensitivity. Importantly, these results were obtained from both human and monkey subjects. Similar task designs could be used in physiological studies attempting to generate linking hypotheses between psychometric and neurometric functions, ultimately allowing changes in perceptual sensitivity to be linked to changes in an underlying neural substrate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-75
Number of pages19
JournalVision research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001


  • Attention
  • Probability matching
  • Response bias
  • Sensitivity
  • Spatial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


Dive into the research topics of 'Stimulus probability directs spatial attention: An enhancement of sensitivity in humans and monkeys'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this