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Attending to the parts of a single object: Part-based selection limitations
Studies of object-based attention have demonstrated poorer performance in dividing attention between two objects in a scene than in focusing attention on a single object. However, objects often are composed of several parts, and parts are central to theories of object recognition. Are parts also important for visual attention? That is, can attention be limited in the number of parts processed simultaneously? We addressed this question in four experiments. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants reported two attributes that appeared on the same part or on different parts of a single multipart object. Participants were more accurate in reporting the attributes on the same part than attributes on different parts. This part-based effect was not influenced by the spatial distance between the parts, ruling out a simple spatial attention interpretation of our results. A control study demonstrated that our spatial manipulation was sufficient to observe shifts of spatial attention. This study revealed an effect of spatial distance, indicating that our spatial manipulation was adequate for observing spatial attention. The absence of a distance effect in Experiments 1 and 2 suggests that part-based attention may not rely entirely on simple shifts of spatial attention. Finally, in Experiment 4 we found evidence for part-based attention, using stimuli controlled for the distance between the parts of an object. The results of these experiments indicate that visual attention can selectively process the parts of an object. We discuss the relationship between parts and objects and the locus of part-based attentional selection.