New rules for visual selection: Isolating procedural attention

J Vis. 2017 Feb 1;17(2):18. doi: 10.1167/17.2.18.


High performance in well-practiced, everyday tasks-driving, sports, gaming-suggests a kind of procedural attention that can allocate processing resources to behaviorally relevant information in an unsupervised manner. Here we show that training can lead to a new, automatic attentional selection rule that operates in the absence of bottom-up, salience-driven triggers and willful top-down selection. Taking advantage of the fact that attention modulates motion aftereffects, observers were presented with a bivectorial display with overlapping, iso-salient red and green dot fields moving to the right and left, respectively, while distracted by a demanding auditory two-back memory task. Before training, since the motion vectors canceled each other out, no net motion aftereffect (MAE) was found. However, after 3 days (0.5 hr/day) of training, during which observers practiced selectively attending to the red, rightward field, a significant net MAE was observed-even when top-down selection was again distracted. Further experiments showed that these results were not due to perceptual learning, and that the new rule targeted the motion, and not the color of the target dot field, and global, not local, motion signals; thus, the new rule was: "select the rightward field." This study builds on recent work on selection history-driven and reward-driven biases, but uses a novel paradigm where the allocation of visual processing resources are measured passively, offline, and when the observer's ability to execute top-down selection is defeated.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Color Perception / physiology*
  • Female
  • Figural Aftereffect
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis