Visual attention modulates signal detectability

J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 1990 Nov;16(4):802-11. doi: 10.1037//0096-1523.16.4.802.


The mechanism by which visual-spatial attention affects the detection of faint signals has been the subject of considerable debate. It is well known that spatial cuing speeds signal detection. This may imply that attentional cuing modulates the processing of sensory information during detection or, alternatively, that cuing acts to create decision bias favoring input at the cued location. These possibilities were evaluated in 3 spatial cuing experiments. Peripheral cues were used in Experiment 1 and central cues were used in Experiments 2 and 3. Cuing similarly enhanced measured sensitivity, P(A) and d', for simple luminance detection in all 3 experiments. Under some conditions it also induced shifts in decision criteria (beta). These findings indicate that visual-spatial attention facilitates the processing of sensory input during detection either by increasing sensory gain for inputs at cued locations or by prioritizing the processing of cued inputs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Orientation*
  • Perceptual Masking
  • Psychophysics
  • Visual Fields
  • Visual Perception*