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Open AccessArticle

Attention and Signal Detection

Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA
Information 2019, 10(8), 254; https://doi.org/10.3390/info10080254
Received: 10 May 2019 / Revised: 1 August 2019 / Accepted: 1 August 2019 / Published: 7 August 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Information-Centred Approaches to Visual Perception)
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Abstract

In this paper, I first review signal detection theory (SDT) approaches to perception, and then discuss why it is thought that SDT theory implies that increasing attention improves performance. Our experiments have shown, however, that this is not necessarily true. Subjects had either focused attention on two of four possible locations in the visual field, or diffused attention to all four locations. The stimuli (offset letters), locations, conditions, and tasks were all known in advance, responses were forced-choice, subjects were properly instructed and motivated, and instructions were always valid—conditions which should optimize signal detection. Relative to diffusing attention, focusing attention indeed benefitted discrimination of forward from backward pointing Es. However, focusing made it harder to identify a randomly chosen one of 20 letters. That focusing can either aid or disrupt performance, even when cues are valid and conditions are idealized, is surprising, but it can also be explained by SDT, as shown here. These results warn the experimental researcher not to confuse focusing attention with enhancing performance, and warn the modeler not to assume that SDT is unequivocal. View Full-Text
Keywords: signal detection theory; attention; performance signal detection theory; attention; performance
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Reeves, A. Attention and Signal Detection. Information 2019, 10, 254.

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