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Attending to a stimulus enhances the sensitivity of perceptual decisions. However, it remains unclear how perceptual sensitivity varies according to whether a feature is expected or unexpected. Here, observers made fine discrimination judgments about the orientation of visual gratings embedded in low spatial-frequency noise, and psychophysical reverse correlation was used to estimate decision 'kernels' that revealed how visual features influenced choices. Orthogonal cues alerted subjects to which of two spatial locations was likely to be probed (spatial attention cue) and which of two oriented gratings was likely to occur (feature expectation cue). When an expected (relative to unexpected) feature occurred, decision kernels shifted away from the category boundary, allowing observers to capitalize on more informative, "off-channel" stimulus features. By contrast, the spatial attention cue had a multiplicative influence on decision kernels, consistent with an increase in response gain. Feature expectation thus heightens sensitivity to the most informative visual features, independent of selective attention.

Original publication




Journal article


J Vis

Publication Date





Attention, Cues, Female, Humans, Male, Orientation, Psychophysics, Visual Perception, Young Adult