Direct measurement of attentional dwell time in human vision


IN vision, attentional limitations are reflected in interference or reduced accuracy when two objects must be identified at once in a brief display1,2. In our experiments a brief temporal separation was introduced between the two objects to be identified. We measured how long the first object continued to interfere with the second, and hence the time course of the first object's attentional demand. According to conventional serial models, attention is assigned rapidly to one object after another, with a dwell time of only a few dozen milliseconds per item3,4. But we report here that interference lasts for several hundred milliseconds—an order of magnitude more than the prediction of conventional models. We suggest that visual attention is not a high-speed switching mecha-nism, but a sustained state during which relevant objects become available to influence behaviour. This conclusion is consistent with recent physiological results in the monkey5.

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Duncan, J., Ward, R. & Shapiro, K. Direct measurement of attentional dwell time in human vision. Nature 369, 313–315 (1994).

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