Unchanging capacity: dual-task effects on peripheral target detection

Stephanie A. Morey, Jason S. McCarley, Nicole A. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Complex workspaces often require operators to divide attention between information within the visual periphery and a visual central task. For an air traffic controller, for example, monitoring complex displays while also watching for potential hazards is essential for avoiding aircraft collisions. In such environments, fast and accurate detection of peripheral events may be critical for safe performance. Presenting targets redundantly offers a potential way of speeding up target detection (Little, Eidels, Fific, & Wang, 2015; Townsend & Eidels, 2011). It remains unclear, however, whether redundant-target processing remains efficient with a concurrent central task. A series of experiments examined the effects of dual-tasking on peripheral redundant-target processing, either between- (Experiments 1a & 1b) or within-participants (Experiment 4). Furthermore, Experiments 2 and 3 manipulated target-distractor discriminability and distractor presence to examine the effects of target salience on dual-task processing efficiency. One hundred and one undergraduate students (N =20 in each of Experiments 1a to 3; N = 21 in Experiment 4) performed a redundant-target task either by itself (Experiment 1a) or whilst performing a manual tracking task (Experiments 1b-4). The tracking task required participants to maneuver a joystick using both hands to align a cursor with a moving red target. The detection task required participants to press a joystick button bimanually whenever a target appeared at a location in the peripheral visual field. Experiments 1a, 1b, and Experiment 4 employed “T” as the target item and “L” as distractor items that appeared randomly rotated in 90° steps. In Experiment 2, target salience was increased by employing “X” as the target item and “O” for the distractor items. Experiment 3 tested peripheral target processing in the absence of distractors; hence, only the target item “T” was employed. Processing efficiency in the target-detection task was calculated using measures of resiliency (Little et al., 2015) or workload capacity (Townsend & Eidels, 2011). In all five experiments, processing of redundant targets was less efficient than predicted by a standard parallel race model (Raab, 1962; Townsend & Eidels, 2011). Surprisingly, processing efficiency differed negligibly between the single and dual-task conditions. Capacity may be protected from task-load effects due to separate information-processing resource pools within the central and peripheral visual fields (Wickens, 2002). Neither increasing the discriminability between targets and distractors, nor removing distractors entirely, had any effect on redundant-target processing efficiency. Results suggest target processing in the visual periphery is capacity-limited, but that processing efficiency is robust against changes to concurrent task load or target salience.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes
EventInternational Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 2016 - Washington Hilton, Washington, United States of America
Duration: 19 Sep 201623 Sep 2016
Conference number: 60th


ConferenceInternational Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 2016
Abbreviated titleHFES 2016
CountryUnited States of America
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