An unattended mask makes an attended target disappear

J Vis. 2015;15(14):9. doi: 10.1167/15.14.9.


In pattern masking, the target and mask are presented at the same location and follow one another very closely in time. When the observer attends to the target, he or she must also attend to the mask, as the switching time for attention is quite slow. In a series of experiments, we present mask-target-mask sequences staggered in time and location (Cavanagh, Holcombe, & Chou, 2008) that allow participants to attentively track the target location without attending to the masks. The results show that the strength of masking is on average unaffected by the removal of attention from the masks. Moreover, after isolating the target location perceptually with moving attention, it is clear that the target, when at threshold, has not been degraded or integrated with a persisting mask but it has vanished. We also show that the strength of masking is unaffected by the lateral spacing between adjacent target and mask sequences until the spacing is so large that the apparent motion driving the attentive tracking breaks down. Finally, we compare the effect of the pre- and postmask and find that the premask is responsible for the larger part of the masking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology*