Analyzing a scene requires shifting attention from object to object. Although several studies have attempted to determine the speed of these attentional shifts, there are large discrepancies in their estimates. Here, we adapt a method pioneered by Carlson et al (2006) that directly measures pure attentional shift times. We also test if attentional shifts can be handled in parallel by the independent resources available in the two cortical hemispheres. We present 10 ‘clocks’, with single revolving hands, in a ring around fixation. Observers are asked to report the hand position on one of the clocks at the onset of a transient cue. The delay between the reported time and the veridical time at cue onset can be used to infer processing and attentional shift times. With this setup, we use a novel subtraction method that utilizes different combinations of exogenous and endogenous cues to determine shift times for both types of attention. In one experiment, subjects shift attention to an exogenously cued clock (baseline condition) in one block and in other blocks perform one further endogenous shift to a nearby clock (test condition). In another experiment, attention is endogenously cued to one clock (baseline condition) and on other trials an exogenous cue further shifts attention to a nearby clock (test condition). Subtracting report delays in the baseline condition from those obtained in the test condition allows us to isolate genuine attentional shift times. In agreement with previous studies, our results reveal that endogenous attention is much slower than exogenous attention (endogenous: 250ms; exogenous: 100 ms). Surprisingly, the dependence of shift time on distance is minimal for exogenous attention, whereas it is steep for endogenous attention. In the final experiment we find that endogenous shifts are faster across hemifields than within a hemifield suggesting that the two hemispheres can simultaneously process at least parts of these shifts.
Chakravarthi, R., & VanRullen, R. (2011). Bullet trains and steam engines: exogenous attention zips but endogenous attention chugs along. Journal of Vision, 11(4), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1167/11.4.12