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The Mental Wormhole: Internal Attention Shifts Without Regard for Distance
AuthorTanoue, Ryan T.
AdvisorBerryhill, Marian E.
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Attention operates perceptually on items in the environment, and internally on objects already encoded in visuospatial working memory (VWM). We investigated whether spatial and temporal constraints affecting perceptual attention extend to internal attention. A retro-cue paradigm in which a valid or neutral cue is presented after stimulus encoding and maintenance phases was used to manipulate shifts of internal attention. Participants' memories were tested for colored circles (Experiments 1, 2a-d, & 3a), or novel objects (Experiment 3b) and their locations within an array. In these experiments the time to shift internal attention (Experiments 1 & 3) and the eccentricity of encoded objects (Experiments 2 & 3) were manipulated. Our data distinguish between perceptual and internal shifts of attention. Unlike perceptual attention, stimulus eccentricity did not affect the time required to shift internal attention. Across several timing parameters and stimuli we found that shifts of internal attention require a minimum quantal amount of time regardless of the object eccentricity at encoding. These results indicate that in VWM, relative item location is encoded as part of object representations. Our findings are consistent with the view that internal attention operates on objects whose spatial information is represented in relative terms. Thus, it seems that perceptual attention abides by the laws of space and time, while internal attention shifts across spatial representations without regard for physical distance.