When size matters: Attention affects performance by contrast or response gain

Katrin Herrmann, Leila Montaser-Kouhsari, Marisa Carrasco, David J. Heeger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Covert attention, the selective processing of visual information in the absence of eye movements, improves behavioral performance. We found that attention, both exogenous (involuntary) and endogenous (voluntary), can affect performance by contrast or response gain changes, depending on the stimulus size and the relative size of the attention field. These two variables were manipulated in a cueing task while stimulus contrast was varied. We observed a change in behavioral performance consonant with a change in contrast gain for small stimuli paired with spatial uncertainty and a change in response gain for large stimuli presented at one location (no uncertainty) and surrounded by irrelevant flanking distracters. A complementary neuroimaging experiment revealed that observers' attention fields were wider with than without spatial uncertainty. Our results support important predictions of the normalization model of attention and reconcile previous, seemingly contradictory findings on the effects of visual attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1554-1561
Number of pages8
JournalNature Neuroscience
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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