Shifting attention between perception and working memory.
Gresch D., Boettcher SEP., van Ede F., Nobre AC.
Most everyday tasks require shifting the focus of attention between sensory signals in the external environment and internal contents in working memory. To date, shifts of attention have been investigated within each domain, but shifts between the external and internal domain remain poorly understood. We developed a combined perception and working-memory task to investigate and compare the consequences of shifting spatial attention within and between domains in the service of a common orientation-reproduction task. Participants were sequentially cued to attend to items either in working memory or to an upcoming sensory stimulation. Stay trials provided a baseline condition, while shift trials required participants to shift their attention to another item within the same or different domain. Validating our experimental approach, we found evidence that participants shifted attention effectively in either domain (Experiment 1). In addition, we observed greater costs when transitioning attention between as compared to within domains (Experiments 1, 2). Strikingly, these costs persisted even when participants were given more time to complete the attentional shift (Experiment 2). Biases in fixational gaze behaviour tracked attentional orienting in both domains, but revealed no latency or magnitude difference for within- versus between-domain shifts (Experiment 1). Collectively, the results from Experiments 1 and 2 suggest that shifting between attentional domains might be regulated by a unique control function. Our results break new ground for exploring the ubiquitous act of shifting attention between perception and working memory to guide adaptive behaviour in everyday cognition.