Visual dominance and attention: the Colavita effect revisited.
Sinnett S., Spence C., Soto-Faraco S.
Under many conditions, humans display a robust tendency to rely more on visual information than on other forms of sensory information. Colavita (1974) illustrated this visual dominance effect by showing that naive observers typically fail to respond to clearly suprathreshold tones if these are presented simultaneously with a visual target flash. In the present study, we demonstrate that visual dominance influences performance under more complex stimulation conditions and address the role played by attention in mediating this effect. In Experiment 1, we show the Colavita effect in the simple speeded detection of line drawings and naturalistic sounds, whereas in Experiment 2 we demonstrate visual dominance when the task targets (auditory, visual, or bimodal combinations) are embedded among continuous streams of irrelevant distractors. In Experiments 3-5, we address the consequences of varying the probability of occurrence of targets in each sensory modality. In Experiment 6, we further investigate the role played by attention on visual dominance by manipulating perceptual load in either the visual or the auditory modality. Our results demonstrate that selective attention to a particular sensory modality can modulate--although not completely reverse--visual dominance as illustrated by the Colavita effect.