The whole is faster than its parts: evidence for temporally independent attention to distinct spatial locations

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2016 Feb;78(2):452-63. doi: 10.3758/s13414-015-1023-1.


Behavioral and electrophysiological evidence suggests that visual attention operates in parallel at distinct spatial locations and samples the environment in periodic episodes. This combination of spatial and temporal characteristics raises the question of whether attention samples locations in a phase-locked or temporally independent manner. If attentional sampling rates were phase locked, attention would be limited by a global sampling rate. However, if attentional sampling rates were temporally independent, they could operate additively to sample higher rates of information. We tested these predictions by requiring participants to identify targets in 2 or 4 rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) streams, synchronized or asynchronized to manipulate the rate of new information globally (across streams). Identification accuracy exhibited little or no change when the global rate of new information doubled from 7.5 to 15 Hz (Experiment 1) or quadrupled to 30 Hz (Experiment 2). This relatively stable identification accuracy occurred even though participants reliably discriminated 7.5 Hz synchronous displays from displays globally asynchronized at 15 and 30 Hz (Metamer Control Experiment). Identification accuracy in the left visual field also significantly exceeded that in the right visual field. Overall, our results are consistent with temporally independent attention across distinct spatial locations and support previous reports of a right parietal "when" pathway specialized for temporal attention.

Keywords: Entrainment; Episodic sampling; Hemifield Asymmetry; Left visual field advantage; Masking; RSVP; Temporal Resolution; Visual attention; When Pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Space Perception*
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Fields