Allocation of Attention During Pursuit of Large Objects Is No Different Than During Fixation

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Attention allocation during pursuit of a spot is usually characterized as asymmetric with more attention placed ahead of the target than behind it. However, attention is symmetrically allocated across larger pursuit stimuli. An unresolved issue is how tightly attention is constrained on large stimuli during pursuit. Although some work shows it is tightly locked to the fovea, other work shows it is allocated flexibly. To investigate this, we had observers perform a character identification task on large pursuit stimuli composed of arrays of five, nine, or 15 characters spaced between 0.6° and 4.0° apart. Initially, the characters were identical, but at a random time, they all changed briefly, rendering one of them unique. Observers identified the unique character. Consistent with previous literature, attention appeared narrow and symmetric around the pursuit target for tightly spaced (0.6°) characters. Increasing spacing dramatically expanded the attention scope, presumably by mitigating crowding. However, when we controlled for crowding, performance was limited by set size, suffering more for eccentric targets. Interestingly, the same limitations on attention allocation were observed with stationary and pursued stimuli—evidence that attention operates similarly during fixation and pursuit of a stimulus that extends into the periphery. The results suggest that attention is flexibly allocated during pursuit, but performance is limited by crowding and set size. In addition, performing the identification task did not hurt pursuit performance, further evidence that pursuit of large stimuli is relatively inattentive.



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