Illusory Conjunctions Inside and Outside the Focus of Attention

Asher Cohen*, Richard Ivry

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

158 Scopus citations


This article addresses 2 questions that arise from the finding that visual scenes are first parsed into visual features: (a) the accumulation of location information about objects during their recognition and (b) the mechanism for the binding of the visual features. The first 2 experiments demonstrated that when 2 colored letters were presented outside the initial focus of attention, illusory conjunctions between the color of one letter and the shape of the other were formed only if the letters were less than 1° apart. Separation greater than 2° resulted in fewer conjunction errors than expected by chance. Experiments 3 and 4 showed that inside the spread of attention, illusory conjunctions between the 2 letters can occur regardless of the distance between them. In addition, these experiments demonstrated that the span of attention can expand or shrink like a spotlight. The results suggest that features inside the focus of attention are integrated by an expandable focal attention mechanism that conjoins all features that appear inside its focus. Visual features outside the focus of attention may be registered with coarse location information prior to their integration. Alternatively, a quick and imprecise shift of attention to the periphery may lead to illusory conjunctions among adjacent stimuli.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)650-663
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1989
Externally publishedYes


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