On the automaticity and flexibility of covert attention: a speed-accuracy trade-off analysis

J Vis. 2009 Mar 31;9(3):30.1-10. doi: 10.1167/9.3.30.


Exogenous covert attention improves discriminability and accelerates the rate of visual information processing (M. Carrasco & B. McElree, 2001). Here we investigated and compared the effects of both endogenous (sustained) and exogenous (transient) covert attention. Specifically, we directed attention via spatial cues and evaluated the automaticity and flexibility of exogenous and endogenous attention by manipulating cue validity in conjunction with a response-signal speed-accuracy trade-off (SAT) procedure, which provides conjoint measures of discriminability and information accrual. To investigate whether discriminability and rate of information processing differ as a function of cue validity (chance to 100%), we compared how both types of attention affect performance while keeping experimental conditions constant. With endogenous attention, both the observed benefits (valid-cue) and the costs (invalid-cue) increased with cue validity. However, with exogenous attention, the benefits and costs in both discriminability and processing speed were similar across cue validity conditions. These results provide compelling time-course evidence that whereas endogenous attention can be flexibly allocated according to cue validity, exogenous attention is automatic and unaffected by cue validity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*