Cueing spatial attention through timing and probability

Giovanna Girardi, Gabriella Antonucci, Daniele Nico

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Even when focused on an effortful task we retain the ability to detect salient environmental information, and even irrelevant visual stimuli can be automatically detected. However, to which extent unattended information affects attentional control is not fully understood. Here we provide evidences of how the brain spontaneously organizes its cognitive resources by shifting attention between a selective-attending and a stimulus-driven modality within a single task. Using a spatial cueing paradigm we investigated the effect of cue-target asynchronies as a function of their probabilities of occurrence (i.e., relative frequency). Results show that this accessory information modulates attentional shifts. A valid spatial cue improved participants' performance as compared to an invalid one only in trials in which target onset was highly predictable because of its more robust occurrence. Conversely, cuing proved ineffective when spatial cue and target were associated according to a less frequent asynchrony. These patterns of response depended on asynchronies' probability and not on their duration.Our findings clearly demonstrate that through a fine decision-making, performed trial-by-trial, the brain utilizes implicit information to decide whether or not voluntarily shifting spatial attention. As if according to a cost-planning strategy, the cognitive effort of shifting attention depending on the cue is performed only when the expected advantages are higher. In a trade-off competition for cognitive resources, voluntary/automatic attending may thus be a more complex process than expected.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-221
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


  • Accessory information
  • Event probability
  • Selective attention
  • Spatial cueing
  • Supervisor system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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