Previous research has shown that when two color-defined target objects appear in rapid succession at different locations, attention is deployed independently and in parallel to both targets. This study investigated whether this rapid simultaneous attentional target selection mechanism can also be employed in tasks where targets are defined by a different visual feature (shape) or when alphanumerical category is the target selection attribute. Two displays that both contained a target and a nontarget object on opposite sides were presented successively, and the SOA between the two displays was 100, 50, 20, or 10 msec in different blocks. N2pc components were recorded to both targets as a temporal marker of their attentional selection. When observers searched for shape-defined targets (Experiment 1), N2pc components to the two targets were equal in size and overlapped in time when the SOA between the two displays was short, reflecting two parallel shape-guided target selection processes with their own independent time course. Essentially the same temporal pattern of N2pc components was observed when alphanumerical category was the target-defining attribute (Experiment 2), demonstrating that the rapid parallel attentional selection of multiple target objects is not restricted to situations where the deployment of attention can be guided by elementary visual features but that these processes can even be employed in category-based attentional selection tasks. These findings have important implications for our understanding of the cognitive and neural basis of top–down attentional control.

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