When sustained attention impairs perception

Nat Neurosci. 2006 Oct;9(10):1243-5. doi: 10.1038/nn1761. Epub 2006 Sep 10.


Virtually all behavioral and neurophysiological studies have shown that sustained (endogenous, conceptually driven) attention enhances perception. But can this enhancement be held indefinitely? We assessed the time course of attention's effects on contrast sensitivity, reasoning that if attention does indeed boost stimulus strength, the strengthened representation could result in stronger adaptation over time. We found that attention initially enhances contrast sensitivity, but that over time sustained attention can actually impair sensitivity to an attended stimulus.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychophysics / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Time Factors