Attentional bias toward low-intensity stimuli: An explanation for the intensity dissociation between reaction time and temporal order judgment?

Consciousness and Cognition 9 (3):435-456 (2000)
Abstract
If two stimuli need different times to be processed, this difference should in principle be reflected both by response times (RT) and by judgments of their temporal order (TOJ). However, several dissociations have been reported between RT and TOJ, e.g., RT is more affected than TOJ when stimulus intensity decreases. One account for these dissociations is to assume differences in the allocation of attention induced by the two tasks. To test this hypothesis, different distributions of attention were induced in the present study between two stimulus positions (above and below fixation). Only bright stimuli appeared in one position and either bright or dim stimuli in the other. In the two RT experiments, participants had to respond to every stimulus appearing in one of the two positions. Reaction times to bright stimuli were faster when they appeared in the position where dim stimuli were likely to occur. This finding suggests that the allocation of attention was adapted to the asymmetrical arrangement of stimuli, not suggested by explicit instruction. In the two TOJ experiments, the temporal order of stimuli appearing in the two positions had to be judged. Although bright stimuli appearing at the bright-and-dim location were judged to be earlier, this effect was small and insignificant. Further, the intensity dissociation between RT and TOJ was insensitive to random vs blockwise presentations of intensities, therefore was not modified by attentional preferences. Thus, asymmetrical arrangement of stimuli has an impact on the allocation of attention, but only in the RT task. Therefore dissociations between TOJ and response times cannot be accounted for by an attentional bias in the TOJ task but probably by different use of temporal information in the two tasks.
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