Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The usefulness of attentional orienting, both in the real world and in the laboratory, depends not only on the ability to attend to objects or other inputs but also on the ability to shift attention between them. Although understanding the basic characteristics of these shifts is a critical step toward understanding the brain mechanisms that produce them, the literature remains unresolved on a very basic and potentially revealing characteristic of these shifts—namely, whether attention takes longer to shift a farther distance across the visual field. We addressed this question using a series of behavioral tasks involving the voluntary orienting of attention to locations in the visual field. The findings support a model in which attentional shifts include separate “planning” and “execution” stages and in which only the planning stage requires more time for shifts of a greater distance. These results offer resolution to the longstanding debate concerning the effect of attentional shift distance on shift time and provide insight into the fundamental mechanisms of attentional shifting.