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Reflexive and volitional orienting in children and adults : pointing to a new future Ristic , Jelena


Traditionally, volitional attention has been studied in the Posner cuing paradigm by using central spatially predictive arrows as attentional cues. The important assumption underlying this methodology has been that arrows (and other central attentional cues) orient attention spatially only if they predict where the target is likely to appear. Recent studies, however, indicate that this fundamental assumption underlying the classic methodology is mistaken. Several studies now report that a range of central directional cues, including arrows, can trigger reflexive orienting effects in both young children and adults when they do not predict where the target is likely to appear. This fact raises the question of whether past studies, using predictive central arrows as attentional cues, were measuring (1) volitional attention because the arrows were predictive, (2) reflexive attention because the arrows were directional, or (3) some combination of volitional and reflexive attention. This issue was investigated in two studies. The first study is presented in Chapter 1. This investigation tested adults with (1) predictive arrow cues (2) nonpredictive arrow cues, to get a pure measure of reflexive orienting, and (3) predictive nondirectional cues, to get a pure measure of volitional orienting. The results of this first study showed that the magnitude of orienting observed with predictive arrow cues was always larger than the s um of pure reflexive and voluntary orienting, suggesting that the traditional measure reflects an interaction between reflexive and volitional attention. The second study, presented in Chapter 2, tested children between the ages of 3 and 6 in a conditions comparable to those in the first study with adults. The results showed that pure reflexive orienting was adult-like, but volitional orienting was not. Young children, unlike adults, could sustain volitional attention for only a brief period of time. Moreover, and also unlike adults, reflexive and volitional orienting appeared to be additive rather than interactive. It is suggested that collectively these findings are consistent with the fields' current understanding of the maturation of brain regions thought to mediate reflexive and volitional orienting.

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