Can the spotlight of attention be shaped like a doughnut? Evidence from steady-state visual evoked potentials

Psychol Sci. 2002 Mar;13(2):119-24. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.00422.


Visual attention enables observers to extract and process high-priority information in the visualfield. Controversy remains as to whether or not observers can ignore information that falls within the spatial beam of attention. We used an objective physiological measure, the steady-state visual evoked potential (SSVEP), to investigate this question. A stream of flickering small, uppercase letters was embedded in the center of a stream of large, uppercase letters. A unitary beam would result in no difference of the SSVEP amplitude elicited by the small letter stream when it was attended versus ignored (i.e., when subjects attended the large letter stream). Contrary to this prediction, SSVEP amplitude increased by almost 100% when the small letter stream was attended compared with when it was ignored. The results support the notion that the attentional spotlight can be formed like a doughnut, processing central information differentially depending on whether it is attended or ignored.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Event-Related Potentials, P300 / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Female
  • Field Dependence-Independence*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Size Perception / physiology