Biased-competition models assert that spatial attention facilitates visual perception by biasing competitive interactions in favor of relevant input. In line with this view, past work has shown that the benefits of covert spatial attention are greatest when targets must compete with interfering stimuli. Here we propose a boundary condition for the resolution of interference via exogenous attention: Attention resolves visual interference between targets and distractors, but only when they can be individuated into distinct representations. Thus, we propose that biased competition may be object-based. We replicated previous observations of larger attention effects when targets were flanked by irrelevant distractors (interference-present displays) than when targets were presented alone (interference-absent displays). Critically, we then showed that this amplification of cueing effects in the presence of interference is eliminated when strong crowding hampers individuation of the targets and distractors. Likewise, when targets were embedded within a noise mask that did not evoke the percept of an individuated distractor, the attention effects were equivalent across noise and lone-target displays. Thus, we conclude that exogenous spatial attention resolves interference in an object-based fashion that depends on the perception of individuated targets and distractors.
Keywords: Object-based attention; Space-based attention.