Differential effects of exogenous and endogenous attention on second-order texture contrast sensitivity

J Vis. 2012 Aug 15;12(8):6. doi: 10.1167/12/8/6.


The visual system can use a rich variety of contours to segment visual scenes into distinct perceptually coherent regions. However, successfully segmenting an image is a computationally expensive process. Previously we have shown that exogenous attention--the more automatic, stimulus-driven component of spatial attention--helps extract contours by enhancing contrast sensitivity for second-order, texture-defined patterns at the attended location, while reducing sensitivity at unattended locations, relative to a neutral condition. Interestingly, the effects of exogenous attention depended on the second-order spatial frequency of the stimulus. At parafoveal locations, attention enhanced second-order contrast sensitivity to relatively high, but not to low second-order spatial frequencies. In the present study we investigated whether endogenous attention-the more voluntary, conceptually-driven component of spatial attention--affects second-order contrast sensitivity, and if so, whether its effects are similar to those of exogenous attention. To that end, we compared the effects of exogenous and endogenous attention on the sensitivity to second-order, orientation-defined, texture patterns of either high or low second-order spatial frequencies. The results show that, like exogenous attention, endogenous attention enhances second-order contrast sensitivity at the attended location and reduces it at unattended locations. However, whereas the effects of exogenous attention are a function of the second-order spatial frequency content, endogenous attention affected second-order contrast sensitivity independent of the second-order spatial frequency content. This finding supports the notion that both exogenous and endogenous attention can affect second-order contrast sensitivity, but that endogenous attention is more flexible, benefitting performance under different conditions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Form Perception / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult