What underlies visual selective attention development? Evidence that age-related improvements in visual feature integration influence visual selective attention performance

J Exp Child Psychol. 2020 Mar;191:104732. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2019.104732. Epub 2019 Nov 23.


Visual selective attention (VSA) improves across childhood. Conjunction search tasks require integrating multiple visual features in order to find a target among distractors and are often used to measure VSA. Motivated by the visual system's architecture and developmental changes in neural connectivity, we predicted that feature integration across separate visual pathways (e.g., color and motion) should develop later than feature integration within the same visual pathways (e.g., luminance and motion). A total of 89 4- to 10-year-old children completed a visual search task that manipulated whether feature integration was between separate parallel visual pathways or within the same visual pathway. We first examined whether color-motion integration was associated with a performance cost relative to luminance-motion integration across childhood. We found that color-motion integration was worse than luminance-motion integration in early childhood but that this difference decreased with age. We also examined whether luminance-motion and color-motion visual search performance developed differently across childhood. Reaction time (RT) visual search slopes for the luminance-motion condition were both stable across childhood and steeper overall than those for the color-motion condition. In contrast, RT search slopes for the color-motion condition became steeperincrease across childhood. Finally, we found that age-related improvements in color-motion integration, relative to luminance-motion integration, were associated with longer color-motion search rates across childhood. These data suggest that age-related improvements in color-motion feature integration may increase competition between color-motion targets and distractors, thereby increasing the amount of time needed to process distractors as nontargets during the selection process.

Keywords: Childhood; Development; Feature integration; Selective attention; Visual attention; Visual search.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*