Competition and selectivity in the visual system: evidence from event-related brain potentials
Hilimire, Matthew R
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When multiple objects are present in a visual scene, salient and behaviorally relevant objects are selectively processed at the expense of less salient or irrelevant objects. Here I used three lateralized components of the event-related potential â " the N2pc, Ptc, and SPCN â " to examine how objects compete for representation in our limited capacity visual system, and how task-relevant objects are selectively processed. Participants responded to the orientation of a color singleton target while ignoring a color singleton distractor. Competition between the objects was manipulated by presenting visual search arrays that contained only a target, only a distractor, or both objects together. In Experiment 1, observers did not know the color of the target in advance, whereas in Experiment 2 this information was provided. Experiment 3 was a control experiment to rule out low-level sensory explanations of the effects. The results suggest that the N2pc component indexes capture of attention by salient objects which is modulated both by competition between the objects and top-down knowledge. The Ptc component may index inhibition of return so that once an object is processed it is not selected again. The SPCN component may index enhancement of goal-relevant objects once task-irrelevant objects have been suppressed. Together these lateralized event-related potentials reveal the temporal dynamics of competition and selectivity in the human visual system.