Humans can efficiently look for but not select multiple visual objects

  1. Eduard Ort  Is a corresponding author
  2. Johannes Jacobus Fahrenfort
  3. Tuomas ten Cate
  4. Martin Eimer
  5. Christian N L Olivers
  1. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands
  2. Utrecht University, Netherlands
  3. Birkbeck College, University of London, United Kingdom

Abstract

The human brain recurrently prioritizes task-relevant over task-irrelevant visual information. A central, question is whether multiple objects can be prioritized simultaneously. To answer this, we let observers search for two colored targets among distractors. Crucially, we independently varied the number of target colors that observers anticipated, and the number of target colors actually used to distinguish the targets in the display. This enabled us to dissociate the preparation of selection mechanisms from the actual engagement of such mechanisms. Multivariate classification of electroencephalographic activity allowed us to track selection of each target separately across time. The results revealed only small neural and behavioral costs associated with preparing for selecting two objects, but substantial costs when engaging in selection. Further analyses suggest this cost is the consequence of neural competition resulting in limited parallel processing, rather than a serial bottleneck. The findings bridge diverging theoretical perspectives on capacity limitations of feature-based attention.

Data availability

All data and material will be made freely accessible at https://osf.io/3bn64.

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Article and author information

Author details

  1. Eduard Ort

    Department of Experimental and Applied Psychology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    For correspondence
    eduardxort@gmail.com
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-5546-3561
  2. Johannes Jacobus Fahrenfort

    Department of Experimental and Applied Psychology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-9025-3436
  3. Tuomas ten Cate

    Experimental Psychology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. Martin Eimer

    Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, United Kingdom
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  5. Christian N L Olivers

    Department of Experimental and Applied Psychology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-7470-5378

Funding

Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (464-13-003)

  • Christian N L Olivers

H2020 European Research Council (ERC-2013-CoG-615423)

  • Christian N L Olivers

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Ethics

Human subjects: All participants gave written informed consent in line with the Declaration of Helsinki. The study was approved by the Scientific and Ethics Review Board of the Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Reference number: VCWE-2016-215).

Reviewing Editor

  1. Huan Luo, Peking University, China

Publication history

  1. Received: June 7, 2019
  2. Accepted: August 26, 2019
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: August 27, 2019 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: September 9, 2019 (version 2)

Copyright

© 2019, Ort et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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  1. Eduard Ort
  2. Johannes Jacobus Fahrenfort
  3. Tuomas ten Cate
  4. Martin Eimer
  5. Christian N L Olivers
(2019)
Humans can efficiently look for but not select multiple visual objects
eLife 8:e49130.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.49130

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