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Cue-target contingencies modulate voluntary orienting of spatial attention: dissociable effects for speed and accuracy


Voluntary orienting of spatial attention is typically investigated by visually presented directional cues, which are called predictive when they indicate where the target is more likely to appear. In this study, we investigated the nature of the potential link between cue predictivity (the proportion of valid trials) and the strength of the resulting covert orienting of attention. Participants judged the orientation of a unilateral Gabor grating preceded by a centrally presented, non-directional, color cue, arbitrarily prompting a leftwards or rightwards shift of attention. Unknown to them, cue predictivity was manipulated across blocks, whereby the cue was only predictive for either the first or the second half of the experiment. Our results show that the cueing effects were strongly influenced by the change in predictivity. This influence differently emerged in response speed and accuracy. The speed difference between valid and invalid trials was significantly larger when cues were predictive, and the amplitude of this effect was modulated at the single trial level by the recent trial history. Complementary to these findings, accuracy revealed a robust effect of block history and also a different time-course compared with speed, as if it mainly mirrored voluntary processes. These findings, obtained with a new manipulation and using arbitrary non-directional cueing, demonstrate that cue-target contingencies strongly modulate the way attention is deployed in space.

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    Of note, the two levels of cue predictivity/proportion valid used here are only indicative because “real” cue predictivity/proportion valid changes on trial-by-trial basis.


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MB was funded by an FWO Pegasus/Marie Curie IEF Fellowship within the 7th framework program (Project 625378 “SpaceLOAD”. GP is funded by the Special Research Fund from Ghent University and by the Belgian Science Policy, Interuniversity Attraction Poles program (P7/11). The authors are grateful to Marco Zorzi for providing access to lab facilities and to two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on the manuscript. MB is grateful to Carlo Umiltà for valuable discussions on the study and to L. Naert & H. Park for proofreading.

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Correspondence to Mario Bonato.

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MB was funded by a FWO Pegasus/Marie Curie IEF Fellowship within the 7th framework program (Project 625378 “SpaceLOAD”).

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MB declares that he has no conflict of interest. ML declares that he has no conflict of interest. SP declares that she has no conflict of interest. GP declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Mario Bonato and Matteo Lisi contributed equally.

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Bonato, M., Lisi, M., Pegoraro, S. et al. Cue-target contingencies modulate voluntary orienting of spatial attention: dissociable effects for speed and accuracy. Psychological Research 82, 272–283 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-016-0818-6

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