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When sustained attention impairs perception


Virtually all behavioral and neurophysiological studies have shown that sustained (endogenous, conceptually driven) attention enhances perception. But can this enhancement be held indefinitely? We assessed the time course of attention's effects on contrast sensitivity, reasoning that if attention does indeed boost stimulus strength, the strengthened representation could result in stronger adaptation over time. We found that attention initially enhances contrast sensitivity, but that over time sustained attention can actually impair sensitivity to an attended stimulus.

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Figure 1: The trial sequence.
Figure 2: The effect of sustained attention over time.
Figure 3: How unattended adapters are affected over time.


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We would like to thank T. Liu and all the members of the Carrasco lab for helpful discussions. This work was funded by the US National Institutes of Health (S.L.).

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Both authors contributed equally to this project.

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Correspondence to Sam Ling.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Ling, S., Carrasco, M. When sustained attention impairs perception. Nat Neurosci 9, 1243–1245 (2006).

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