UBC Faculty Research and Publications

If not When, then Where? Ignoring Temporal Information Eliminates Reflexive but not Volitional Spatial Orienting Laidlaw, Kaitlin E. W.; Kingstone, Alan


A tremendous amount of research has been devoted to understanding how attention can be committed to space or time. Until recently, relatively little research has examined how attention to these two domains combine. The present study addressed this issue. We examined how implicitly manipulating whether participants used a cue to orient attention in time impacts reflexive or volitional shifts in spatial attention. Specifically, participants made speeded manual responses to the detection of a peripherally presented target that appeared either 100, 500, or 1000 ms after the onset of a central cue. Cues were either spatially non-predictive arrows (p = 0.50) or spatially-predictive (p = 0.80) letter cues. Whereas arrow cues can reflexively orient spatial attention even when non-predictive of a target’s spatial location, letters only orient spatial attention when they reliably predict a target location, i.e., the shift is volitional. Further, in one task, a target was presented on every trial, thereby encouraging participants to use the temporal information conveyed by the cue to prepare for the appearance of the target. In another task, 25% of trials contained no target, implicitly discouraging participants from using the cue to direct attention in time. Results indicate that when temporal information is reliable and therefore volitionally processed, then spatial cuing effects emerge regardless of whether attention is oriented reflexively or volitionally. However, when temporal information is unreliable, spatial cuing effects only emerge when spatial cue information is reliable, i.e., when spatial attention is volitionally shifted. Reflexive cues do not elicit spatial orienting when their temporal utility is reduced. These results converge on the notion that reflexive shifts of spatial attention are sensitive to implicit changes in a non-spatial domain, whereas explicit volitional shifts in spatial attention are not.

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