Spatial uncertainty explains exogenous and endogenous attentional cuing effects in visual signal detection.
Gould IC., Wolfgang BJ., Smith PL.
Attentional cues may increase the detectability of a stimulus by increasing its signal-to-noise ratio (signal enhancement) or by increasing the efficiency of the observer's decision making by reducing uncertainty about the location of the stimulus (uncertainty reduction). Although signal enhancement has typically been found in detection tasks only when stimuli are backwardly masked, some recent studies have reported signal enhancement with unmasked stimuli under conditions of spatial uncertainty (E. L. Cameron, J. C. Tai, & M. Carrasco, 2002; M. Carrasco, C. Penpeci-Talgar, & M. Eckstein, 2000). To test whether these increases in sensitivity in unmasked displays were due to signal enhancement or uncertainty reduction, observers judged the orientation of unmasked Gabor patch stimuli in the presence or absence of fiducial markers that indicated their position in the display. Consistent with an uncertainty reduction hypothesis, cues produced large increases in sensitivity when stimuli were not localized perceptually but produced little or no systematic increase when they were localized by fiducial markers. The same general pattern of results was obtained with cues designed to engage the exogenous and endogenous orienting systems. The data suggest that, in practiced observers, the cuing effect for detecting unmasked stimuli is mainly due to uncertainty reduction.