UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Attentional spatial selection and identity extraction are separable cognitive processes Ghorashi, Shahab


While searching for objects in a cluttered environment, observers confront two tasks: selecting where to search, and identifying the targets. Chapter 1 reviews major theories of visual search, and highlights their approaches to these two functions. While anatomical, neurological, and behavioural evidence suggests dissociation between spatial selection and identity extraction, there is a vast controversy about this issue among visual-search accounts. This review demonstrates that none of these theories has adopted the right tool to independently manipulate the two functions. A new methodology is suggested in which the two functions are manipulated independently using spatial cueing to manipulate localization, and the attentional blink – AB - to manipulate identification (AB: impaired identification of the second of two briefly-displayed sequential targets). In examining the separability of spatial selection and identity extraction, additive-factors logic is adopted: if two factors (here: spatial cueing and AB) influence independent stages of processing, they will have additive effects on the dependent measure. Conversely, whenever additivity occurs, the underlying mechanisms can be assumed to be independent. Experiments in Chapter 2 show that cueing and the AB have additive effects, confirming the hypothesis that the two functions are separable. The results are accounted for by relating them to two major parallel pathways in the visual system: the dorsal and ventral pathways. Based on the characteristics of each pathway, it is plausible to assume that spatial cues (indexing spatial selection) are processed along the dorsal pathway while identification is processed along the ventral pathway. The two functions are therefore separable because they are mediated by mechanisms that are anatomically and functionally distinct. The experiment in Chapter 3 was designed to address contrary evidence regarding the separability of location and identity processing. It shows that those results were due to a procedural, artefactual ceiling. In Chapter 4, a prediction is tested based on the interpretation of results in the first study: if cueing involves both the dorsal and ventral pathways it should interfere with the AB; the results support this prediction. Chapter 5 discusses how these results collectively support the separability of spatial and identity processing, and also discusses future directions.

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