Complex, Dynamic Scene Perception: Effects of Attentional Set on Perceiving Single and Multiple Event Types

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Three experiments measured the efficiency of monitoring complex scenes composed of changing objects, or events. All events lasted about 4 s, but in a given block of trials, could be of a single type (single task) or of multiple types (multitask, with a total of four event types). Overall accuracy of detecting target events amid distractors was higher for single event types relative to multiple types. Multiple event types were processed reasonably well when each event type was restricted to its own region, and much worse when event types were mixed in location. In most task conditions, observers reached an optimal level of performance (optimal attentional set). After one target was identified, performance for other targets dropped markedly and then recovered to optimal levels. However, set was not optimized when task locations were intermixed. The results support the idea that attentional set determines the efficiency of event perception in complex scenes. Although single event set was most efficient, there can be a reasonably efficient set for multiple event types.

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Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, v. 39, issue 2, p. 381-398