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Perceptual load and enumeration : distractor interference depends on subitizing capacity

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Abstract
Attention is limited, both in processing capacity (leading to phenomena of "inattentional blindness") and in the capacity for selective focus (leading to distraction). Load theory (e.g., Lavie, 1995) accounts for both limitations by proposing that perceptual processing has limited capacity but proceeds automatically and in parallel on all stimuli within capacity. Here we tested these claims by applying load theory to the phenomenon of "subitizing": the parallel detection and individuation of a limited number of items, established in enumeration research. We predicted that distractor interference will be found within but not beyond a person's subitizing capacity (measured as the transition from parallel to serial slope). Participants reported the number of target shapes from brief displays while ignoring irrelevant cartoon-image distractors. As predicted, distractor cost on enumeration performance was found within subitizing capacity and eliminated in larger set sizes. Moreover, individual differences results demonstrated that distractor effects depended on an individual's capacity (i.e., their serial-to-parallel transition point), rather than on set size per se. These results provide new evidence for the load theory hypotheses that perceptual processing is automatic and parallel within its limited capacity, while extending it to account for selective attention during enumeration. Public Significance Statement Why is it that people are sometimes distracted by information that is irrelevant to their task, while at other times can experience inattentional blindness to anything outside their attention focus? Here we relate attention theory to the phenomenon of subitizing-the instant detection of a small number of stimuli-typically up to five. We establish that whether a person perceives a distractor, or is inattentionally blind to it, is determined by the task demands on their perceptual capacity. In task of low attention demands "spare" capacity results in perception of a task-irrelevant stimulus and this can result in distraction, otherwise if task demands take up full perceptual capacity, this results in reduced "distractor" perception outside attention focus. Moreover, we show that individuals differ in capacity: people with a higher perceptual capacity (who can instantly subitize more items) perceive items outside their focus in tasks that exhaust capacity for lower-capacity individuals.
Keywords
Behavioral Neuroscience, Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous), Experimental and Cognitive Psychology, attention, perceptual load, subitizing capacity, distractor interference, individual differences, MULTIPLE-OBJECT TRACKING, SELECTIVE ATTENTION, VISUAL-SEARCH, AGE, INDIVIDUATION, MODULATION, DILUTION, IGNORE, BURDEN, AUTISM

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Citation

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MLA
Eayrs, Joshua, and Nilli Lavie. “Perceptual Load and Enumeration : Distractor Interference Depends on Subitizing Capacity.” JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY-HUMAN PERCEPTION AND PERFORMANCE, vol. 47, no. 9, 2021, pp. 1149–65, doi:10.1037/xhp0000823.
APA
Eayrs, J., & Lavie, N. (2021). Perceptual load and enumeration : distractor interference depends on subitizing capacity. JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY-HUMAN PERCEPTION AND PERFORMANCE, 47(9), 1149–1165. https://doi.org/10.1037/xhp0000823
Chicago author-date
Eayrs, Joshua, and Nilli Lavie. 2021. “Perceptual Load and Enumeration : Distractor Interference Depends on Subitizing Capacity.” JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY-HUMAN PERCEPTION AND PERFORMANCE 47 (9): 1149–65. https://doi.org/10.1037/xhp0000823.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Eayrs, Joshua, and Nilli Lavie. 2021. “Perceptual Load and Enumeration : Distractor Interference Depends on Subitizing Capacity.” JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY-HUMAN PERCEPTION AND PERFORMANCE 47 (9): 1149–1165. doi:10.1037/xhp0000823.
Vancouver
1.
Eayrs J, Lavie N. Perceptual load and enumeration : distractor interference depends on subitizing capacity. JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY-HUMAN PERCEPTION AND PERFORMANCE. 2021;47(9):1149–65.
IEEE
[1]
J. Eayrs and N. Lavie, “Perceptual load and enumeration : distractor interference depends on subitizing capacity,” JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY-HUMAN PERCEPTION AND PERFORMANCE, vol. 47, no. 9, pp. 1149–1165, 2021.
@article{8739830,
  abstract     = {{Attention is limited, both in processing capacity (leading to phenomena of "inattentional blindness") and in the capacity for selective focus (leading to distraction). Load theory (e.g., Lavie, 1995) accounts for both limitations by proposing that perceptual processing has limited capacity but proceeds automatically and in parallel on all stimuli within capacity. Here we tested these claims by applying load theory to the phenomenon of "subitizing": the parallel detection and individuation of a limited number of items, established in enumeration research. We predicted that distractor interference will be found within but not beyond a person's subitizing capacity (measured as the transition from parallel to serial slope). Participants reported the number of target shapes from brief displays while ignoring irrelevant cartoon-image distractors. As predicted, distractor cost on enumeration performance was found within subitizing capacity and eliminated in larger set sizes. Moreover, individual differences results demonstrated that distractor effects depended on an individual's capacity (i.e., their serial-to-parallel transition point), rather than on set size per se. These results provide new evidence for the load theory hypotheses that perceptual processing is automatic and parallel within its limited capacity, while extending it to account for selective attention during enumeration.

Public Significance Statement

Why is it that people are sometimes distracted by information that is irrelevant to their task, while at other times can experience inattentional blindness to anything outside their attention focus? Here we relate attention theory to the phenomenon of subitizing-the instant detection of a small number of stimuli-typically up to five. We establish that whether a person perceives a distractor, or is inattentionally blind to it, is determined by the task demands on their perceptual capacity. In task of low attention demands "spare" capacity results in perception of a task-irrelevant stimulus and this can result in distraction, otherwise if task demands take up full perceptual capacity, this results in reduced "distractor" perception outside attention focus. Moreover, we show that individuals differ in capacity: people with a higher perceptual capacity (who can instantly subitize more items) perceive items outside their focus in tasks that exhaust capacity for lower-capacity individuals.}},
  author       = {{Eayrs, Joshua and Lavie, Nilli}},
  issn         = {{0096-1523}},
  journal      = {{JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY-HUMAN PERCEPTION AND PERFORMANCE}},
  keywords     = {{Behavioral Neuroscience,Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous),Experimental and Cognitive Psychology,attention,perceptual load,subitizing capacity,distractor interference,individual differences,MULTIPLE-OBJECT TRACKING,SELECTIVE ATTENTION,VISUAL-SEARCH,AGE,INDIVIDUATION,MODULATION,DILUTION,IGNORE,BURDEN,AUTISM}},
  language     = {{eng}},
  number       = {{9}},
  pages        = {{1149--1165}},
  title        = {{Perceptual load and enumeration : distractor interference depends on subitizing capacity}},
  url          = {{http://doi.org/10.1037/xhp0000823}},
  volume       = {{47}},
  year         = {{2021}},
}

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