A theory of visual attention

Psychol Rev. 1990 Oct;97(4):523-47. doi: 10.1037/0033-295x.97.4.523.


A unified theory of visual recognition and attentional selection is developed by integrating the biased-choice model for single-stimulus recognition (Luce, 1963; Shepard, 1957) with a choice model for selection from multielement displays (Bundesen, Pedersen, & Larsen, 1984) in a race model framework. Mathematically, the theory is tractable, and it specifies the computations necessary for selection. The theory is applied to extant findings from a broad range of experimental paradigms. The findings include effects of object integrality in selective report, number and spatial position of targets in divided-attention paradigms, selection criterion and number of distracters in focused-attention paradigms, delay of selection cue in partial report, and consistent practice in search. On the whole, the quantitative fits are encouraging.

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Orientation
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time