Distinguishing between parallel and serial processing in visual attention from neurobiological data.
Li K., Kadohisa M., Kusunoki M., Duncan J., Bundesen C., Ditlevsen S.
Serial and parallel processing in visual search have been long debated in psychology, but the processing mechanism remains an open issue. Serial processing allows only one object at a time to be processed, whereas parallel processing assumes that various objects are processed simultaneously. Here, we present novel neural models for the two types of processing mechanisms based on analysis of simultaneously recorded spike trains using electrophysiological data from prefrontal cortex of rhesus monkeys while processing task-relevant visual displays. We combine mathematical models describing neuronal attention and point process models for spike trains. The same model can explain both serial and parallel processing by adopting different parameter regimes. We present statistical methods to distinguish between serial and parallel processing based on both maximum likelihood estimates and decoding the momentary focus of attention when two stimuli are presented simultaneously. Results show that both processing mechanisms are in play for the simultaneously recorded neurons, but neurons tend to follow parallel processing in the beginning after the onset of the stimulus pair, whereas they tend to serial processing later on.