Transient attention does increase perceived contrast of suprathreshold stimuli: a reply to Prinzmetal, Long, and Leonhardt (2008)

Percept Psychophys. 2008 Oct;70(7):1151-64. doi: 10.3758/pp.70.7.1151.


Carrasco, Ling, and Read (2004) showed that transient attention increases perceived contrast. However, Prinzmetal, Long, and Leonhardt (2008) suggest that for targets of low visibility, observers may bias their response toward the cued location, and they propose a cue-bias explanation for our previous results. Our response is threefold. First, we outline several key methodological differences between the studies that could account for the different results. We conclude that the cue-bias hypothesis is a plausible explanation for Prinzmetal et al.'s (2008) results, given the characteristics of their stimuli, but not for the studies by Carrasco and colleagues, in which the stimuli were suprathreshold (Carrasco, Ling, & Read, 2004; Fuller, Rodriguez, & Carrasco, 2008; Ling & Carrasco, 2007). Second, we conduct a study to show that the stimuli used in our previous studies are not near-threshold, but suprathreshold (Experiment 1, Phase 1). Furthermore, we found an increase in apparent contrast for a high-contrast stimulus when it was precued, but not when it was postcued, providing more evidence against a cue-bias hypothesis (Experiment 1, Phase 2). We also show that the visibility of the stimuli in Prinzmetal et al. (2008) was much lower than that of Carrasco, Ling, and Read, rendering their stimuli susceptible to their cue-bias explanation (Experiment 2). Third, we present a comprehensive summary of all the control conditions used in different labs that have ruled out a cue bias explanation of the appearance studies. We conclude that a cue-bias explanation may operate with near-threshold and low-visibility stimuli, as was the case in Prinzmetal et al. (2008), but that such an explanation has no bearing on studies with suprathreshold stimuli. Consistent with our previous studies, the present data support the claim that attention does alter the contrast appearance of suprathreshold stimuli.

Publication types

  • Comment
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Contrast Sensitivity*
  • Cues
  • Differential Threshold
  • Humans
  • Visual Perception*