Toward a biased competition account of object-based segregation and attention

Brain and Mind 1 (3):353-384 (2000)
Because the visual system cannot process all of the objects, colors, and features present in a visual scene, visual attention allows some visual stimuli to be selected and processed over others. Most research on visual attention has focused on spatial or location-based attention, in which the locations occupied by stimuli are selected for further processing. Recent research, however, has demonstrated the importance of objects in organizing (or segregating) visual scenes and guiding attentional selection. Because of the long history of spatial attention research, theories of spatial attention are more mature than theories of other visual processes, such as object segregation and object attention. In the present paper, I outline a biased competition account of object segregation and attention, following similar accounts that have been developed for spatial attention (Desimone and Duncan, 1995). In my biased competition account, I seek to understand how some objects can be segregated and selected over other objects in a complex visual scene. Under this account, there are two sources of visual information that allow an object to be processed over other objects: bottom-up information carried by the physical stimulus and top-down information based on an observer's goals. I use the biased competition account to combine many diverse findings from the object segregation and attention literatures into a common framework.
Keywords attention  perceptual organization  figure-ground segregation  object-based attention
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