Voluntary and stimulus-induced attention detected as motion sensation

Perception. 1993;22(5):517-26. doi: 10.1068/p220517.


Attention may be drawn passively to a visually salient object. We may also actively direct attention to an object of interest. Do the two kinds of attention, passive and active, interact and jointly influence visual information processing at some neural level? What happens if the passive and active attentions come into conflict? These questions were addressed with the aid of a novel psychophysical technique which reveals an attentional gradient as a sensation of motion in a line which is presented instantaneously. The subjects were asked to direct attention with voluntary effort: to the side opposite to a stimulus change, to an object with a predetermined colour, and to an object moving smoothly. In every case the same motion sensation was induced in the line from the attended side to the unattended side. This voluntary attention, however, can easily and quickly be distracted by a change in the periphery, though it can be regained within a period of 200 to 500 ms. The results suggest that the line motion can be induced in voluntary (top-down) as well as stimulus-driven (bottom-up) situations, thus indicating the truly attentional nature of the effect, rather than it being some kind of retinotopic sensory artifact or response bias. The results also suggest that these two kinds of attention have facilitatory effects acting together on a relatively early stage of visual information processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Color Perception
  • Humans
  • Kinesthesis*
  • Motion Perception*
  • Optical Illusions*
  • Orientation
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time