Processing Spatial Relations With Different Apertures of Attention

Cognitive Science 35 (2):297-329 (2011)
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Neuropsychological studies suggest the existence of lateralized networks that represent categorical and coordinate types of spatial information. In addition, studies with neural networks have shown that they encode more effectively categorical spatial judgments or coordinate spatial judgments, if their input is based, respectively, on units with relatively small, nonoverlapping receptive fields, as opposed to units with relatively large, overlapping receptive fields. These findings leave open the question of whether interactive processes between spatial detectors and types of spatial relations can be modulated by spatial attention. We hypothesized that spreading the attention window to encompass an area that includes two objects promotes coordinate spatial relations, based on coarse coding by large, overlapping, receptive fields. In contrast, narrowing attention to encompass an area that includes only one of the objects benefits categorical spatial relations, by effectively parsing space. By use of a cueing procedure, the spatial attention window was manipulated to select regions of differing areas. As predicted, when the attention window was large, coordinate spatial transformations were noticed faster than categorical transformations; in contrast, when the attention window was relatively smaller, categorical spatial transformations were noticed faster than coordinate transformations. Another novel finding was that coordinate changes were noticed faster when cueing an area that included both objects as well as the empty space between them than when simultaneously cueing both areas including the objects while leaving the gap between them uncued



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