Humans can efficiently look for but not select multiple visual objects

Eduard Ort, Johannes Jacobus Fahrenfort, Tuomas Ten Cate, Martin Eimer, Christian Nl Olivers

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

The human brain recurrently prioritizes task-relevant over task-irrelevant visual information. A central question is whether multiple objects can be prioritized simultaneously. To answer this, we let observers search for two colored targets among distractors. Crucially, we independently varied the number of target colors that observers anticipated, and the number of target colors actually used to distinguish the targets in the display. This enabled us to dissociate the preparation of selection mechanisms from the actual engagement of such mechanisms. Multivariate classification of electroencephalographic activity allowed us to track selection of each target separately across time. The results revealed only small neural and behavioral costs associated with preparing for selecting two objects, but substantial costs when engaging in selection. Further analyses suggest this cost is the consequence of neural competition resulting in limited parallel processing, rather than a serial bottleneck. The findings bridge diverging theoretical perspectives on capacity limitations of feature-based attention.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere49130
JournaleLife
Volume8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 Aug 2019

Keywords

  • attentional template
  • EEG
  • feature-based attention
  • human
  • multiple targets
  • MVPA
  • neuroscience
  • visual search

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