Categorization Specificity and Sematic Content Impact the Deployment of Spatial Attention

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The present study tests the interaction between object knowledge and visual attention by examining whether categorizing stimuli at different levels of specificity will affect how attention is deployed in space. In order to test for this potential interaction, we developed a new experimental paradigm, the category cueing paradigm, which combines a classic cueing paradigm with a category verification paradigm. Participants were presented with a lateralized cue label that was either at the basic ("dolphin") or subordinate ("bottlenose dolphin") categorization levels followed by a lateralized image of an object that could either agree with the label or not. Critically, the location of both cue and target was systematically manipulated. In 80% of the trials the cue was presented on the same side of the visual field as the target (valid trials) and in 20% the cue and target location mismatched (invalid trials). To test the generalizability of our paradigm, we also manipulated for the semantic category (i.e. animacy) of the objects, using animals (dolphins and sharks) and vehicles (motorbikes and scooters). As an initial validation of the category cueing paradigm, we found a cue validity effect despite the complex nature of both label and stimuli, as well as the expected basic level advantage (faster and more accurate categorization at the basic rather than at the subordinate level). Critically, we found that the strength of the cue validity effect varied as a function of both categorization level and semantic category: categorizing animals at the basic level resulted in larger cue validity effects than in the subordinate level. In contrast, categorizing vehicles at the subordinate level elicited larger cue validity effects than at the basic level. These findings demonstrate that spatial attention can be modulated by object knowledge and semantic categorization, suggesting a strong interaction between the two systems.


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Presented at the Vision Sciences Society Seventeenth Annual Meeting, St. Pete Beach, FL, May 19-24, 2017