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Sensation & Perception


Any of the very large set of selective processes in the brain

Selective attention

The form of attention involved when processing is restricted to a subset of the possible stimuli

External attention

Attending to stimuli in the world

Internal attention

Attending to one line of thought over another or selecting one response over another

Overt attention

Directing a sense organ toward a stimulus, like pointing your eyes or turning your head

Covert attention

Attending without giving an outward sign you are doing so

Divided attention

Splitting attention between two different stimuli

Sustained attention

Continuously monitoring some stimulus

Reaction time (RT)

A measure of the time from the onset of a stimulus to a response


A stimulus that might indicate where (or what) a subsequent stimulus will be. Cues can be valid (correct info), invalid (incorrect info), or neutral (uninformative)

Stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA)

The time between the onset of one stimulus and the onset of another

Spotlight model

Attention is restricted in space and moves from one point to the next. Areas within the spotlight receive extra processing

Zoom lens model

The attended region can grow or shrink depending on the size of the area to be processed

Visual search

Looking for a target in a display containing distracting elements


The goal of a visual search


In visual search, any stimulus other than the target

Set size

The number of items in a visual search display

The efficiency of visual search

the average increase in RT for each item added to the display; measured in terms of search slope, or ms/item

Feature search

Search for a target defined by a single attribute, such as a salient color or orientation; efficient


The vividness of a stimulus relative to its neighbors

Parallel processing

Processing of multiple stimuli at the same time

Guided search

Search in which attention can be restricted to a substet of possible items on the basis of information about the target item's basic features (eg, its color)

Conjunction search

Search for a target defined by the presence of two or more attributes
- no single feature defines the target
- defined by the co-occurence of two or more features
- inefficient
- Serial Processing: items are processed one at a time

The larger the search slope (more ms/item), the less efficient the search

Efficient searches - have small slopes
Inefficient searches - have large slopes

Scene-based guidance

Information in our understanding of scenes that helps us find specific objects in scenes

The binding problem

The challenge of tying different attributes of visual stimuli, which are handled by different brain circuits, to the appropriate object so we perceive a unified object
- example: a vertical red bar moving to the right
--color, motion, and orientation are represented by separate neurons

Feature integration theory (aka Treisman's theory of visual attention)

A limited set of basic features can be processed in parallel preattentively, but that other properties, including the correct binding of features to objects, require attention. (Basically, you can be "pre"attentive and look for something that is small and brown if you're looking for a mouse, and completely disregard the large, orange things in a visual search, but that you have to put those features together in your head first)

Preattentive stage

The processing of a stimulus that occurs before selective attention is deployed to that stimulus

Illusory conjunction

A false combination of two features in a visual scene; some features are represented independently and must be correctly bound together with attention

Rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP)

Used to study the temporal dynamics of visual attention.
An experimental procedure in which stimuli appear in a stream at one location (typically the point of fixation) at a rapid rate (typically about 8/sec)

Attentional blink

The difficulty in perceiving and responding to the second of two target stimuli amid a RSVP stream of distracting stimuli
The target is often missed if it appears within 200-500

Repetition blindness

A failure to detect the second occurrence of a letter, word, or picture in a RSVP stream of stimuli
The second occurrence is often missed when it appears within 200-500 ms of the first occurrence

3 ways responses of a cell could be changed by attention

1. Response enhancement
2. Sharper tuning
3. Altered tuning

Response enhancement

An effect of attention on the response of a neuron in which the neuron responding to an attended stimulus gives a bigger response (Suppose a cell responded to a range of different orientations but was maximally responsive to vertical lines. Attention might make the cell more responsive across the board; has been seen in the visual cortex)

Sharper tuning

An effect of attention on the response of a neuron in which the neuron responding to an attended stimulus responds more precisely. (Attention could make it easier for the neuron to find a weak vertical signal amid the noise of other orientations)

Fusiform face area (FFA)

An area in the fusiform gyrus of human extrastriate cortex that responds preferentially to faces according to fMRI studies

Parahippocampal place area (PPA)

A region of cortex in the temporal love of humans that appears to respond strongly to images of places (as opposed to isolated objects)


In visual attention, the inability to attend or respond to stimuli in the contralesional visual field. Typically, neglect of the left visual field after damage to the right parietal lobe

Contralesional field

The visual field on the opposite side of a brain lesion. For example, points to the left of fixation are contralesional to damage to the right hemisphere of the brain

Ipsilesional field

The visual field on the same side as a brain lesion.

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