Covert attention increases spatial resolution with or without masks: Support for signal enhancement

Marissa Carrasco, Patrick E. Williams, Yaffa Yeshurun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual attention can increase spatial resolution even when it leads to a decrease in performance. Whether this effect is mediated by reduction of external noise or by signal enhancement is an unsettled question. Although we previously demonstrated that attention can improve speed and accuracy in an acuity task, those experiments made use of a local postmask, which could be considered a source of external noise. In this work, a peripheral cue improved observers' abilities to indicate which side of a Landolt-square target had a gap whether or not a local postmask was used and with both central- and spread-neutral cues. In addition, we documented the presence of visual field inhomogeneities in a resolution task. Given that these experiments presented the target alone with no external noise added (i.e., without distracters or masks), our results indicate that transient attention enhanced the quality of the stimulus representation. Furthermore, because performance in the Landolt-square task indexes resolution, this attentional benefit indicates that transient attention can produce signal enhancement through finer spatial resolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467-479
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number6
StatePublished - 18 Oct 2002


  • Covert attention
  • Masking
  • Signal enhancement
  • Spatial resolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Ophthalmology


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