Spatial separation between targets constrains maintenance of attention on multiple objects

Won Mok Shim, George A. Alvarez, Yuhong V. Jiang

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    70 Scopus citations


    Humans are limited in their ability to maintain multiple attentional foci. In attentive tracking of moving objects, performance declines as the number of tracked targets increases. Previous studies have interpreted such reduction in terms of a limit in the number of attentional foci. However, increasing the number of targets usually reduces spatial separation among different targets. In this study, we examine the role of target spatial separation in maintaining multiple attentional foci. Results from a multiple-object tracking task show that tracking accuracy deteriorates as the spatial separation between targets decreases. We propose that local interaction between nearby attentional foci modulates the resolution of attention, and that capacity limitation from attentive tracking originates in part from limitations in maintaining critical spacing among multiple attentional foci. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that tracking performance is limited not primarily by a number of locations, but by factors such as the spacing and speed of the targets and distractors.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)390-397
    Number of pages8
    JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Apr 2008

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    This study was supported by NIH Grant 071788, NSF Grant 0733764, and ONR Grant YIP2005 to Y.V.J. and NIH Grant EY016982 to G.A.A.


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