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Töllner, Thomas ORCID: 0000-0001-5399-9952; Conci, Markus ORCID: 0000-0002-3403-0318; Müller, Hermann J. ORCID: 0000-0002-4774-5654; Mazza, Veronica (October 2016): Attending to multiple objects relies on both featureand dimension-based control mechanisms. Evidence from human electrophysiology. In: Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, Vol. 78, No. 7: pp. 2079-2089
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Abstract

Numerous everyday search tasks require humans to attentionally select and temporally store more than one object present in the visual environment. Recently, several enumeration studies sought to isolate the mechanisms underlying multiple object processing by means of electrophysiological measures, which led to a more fine-grained picture as to which processing stages are modulated by object numerosity. One critical limitation that most of these studies share is that they used stimulus designs in which multiple targets were exclusively defined by the same feature value. Accordingly, it remains an open issue whether these findings generalize to search scenarios in which multiple targets are physically not identical. To systematically address this issue, we introduced three target context conditions in which multiple targets were defined randomly by (1) the same feature (sF), (2) different features within the same dimension (dFsD), or (3) different features across dimensions (dD). Our findings revealed that participants’ ability to enumerate multiple targets was remarkably influenced by inter-target relationships, with fastest responses for sF trials, slowest responses for dD trials, and responses of intermediate speed for dFsD trials. Our electrophysiological analyses disclosed that one source of this response slowing was feature-based and originated from the stage of attentional selection (as indexed by PCN waves), whereas another source was dimension-based and associated with working memory processes (as indexed by P3b waves). Overall, our results point to a significant role of physical inter-target relationships in multiple object processing—a factor that has been largely neglected in most studies on enumeration.