Effects of Foveal Task Load on Visual‐Spatial Attention: Event‐Related Brain Potentials and Performance

Arthur F. Kramer, Erik J. Sirevaag, Paul R. Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The effects of foveal task difficulty on the processing of events in the visual periphery were investigated through an analysis of event‐related brain potentials and performance measures. Subjects performed a foveally presented continuous monitoring task both separately and together with an arrow discrimination task that was presented at three different retinal eccentricities. The subjects detected occasional failures in the monitoring task while also responding to designated targets in the left and right visual fields. The analysis of the event‐related brain potentials elicited by discrete events in the arrow discrimination task indicated that the amplitude of the N190 and P300 components decreased with both the introduction of the foveal task and an increase in its difficulty. The N160 component was sensitive to the distribution of attention within a task but was uninfluenced by dual task demands. These findings suggest that the N160 reflects the distribution of attention to different spatial locations within a task while the N190 may index the distribution of general purpose perceptual resources. P300 appears to index the allocation of perceptual/central processing resources. The implications of the results for models of resource allocation and attentional gradients are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)512-531
Number of pages20
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1988


  • Dual tasks
  • Event‐related brain potentials (ERPs)
  • N160
  • N190
  • P300
  • Resource allocation
  • Selective and divided attention
  • Visual‐spatial attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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