Most theories of visual processing assume that a target will “pop out” from an array of distractors (“parallel” visual search, e.g., color or orientation discrimination) if targets and distractors can be discriminated without attention. When the discrimination requires attention (e.g., rotated L vs. T or red-green vs. green-red bisected disks), “serial” examination is needed in visual search. Attentional requirements are also frequently assessed by measuring interference from a concurrently performed attentionally demanding task. It is commonly believed that attention acts equivalently in dual-task and visual search paradigms, based on the implicit assumption that visual attentional requirements can be defined along a single dimension. Here we show that there is no such equivalence: We report on targets that do not trigger pop-out, even though they can be discriminated from distractors with attention occupied elsewhere (natural scenes, color-orientation conjunctions); conversely, we show that certain targets that pop out among distractors need undivided attention to be effectively discriminated from distractors when presented in isolation (rotated L vs. +, depth-rotated cubes). In other words, visual search and dual-task performance reveal attentional resources along two independent dimensions. We suggest an interpretation of these results in terms of neuronal selectivities and receptive field size effects.
These two authors contributed equally to the work reported here.