Bilateral field advantage in visual enumeration.
Delvenne JF., Castronovo J., Demeyere N., Humphreys GW.
A number of recent studies have demonstrated superior visual processing when the information is distributed across the left and right visual fields than if the information is presented in a single hemifield (the bilateral field advantage). This effect is thought to reflect independent attentional resources in the two hemifields and the capacity of the neural responses to the left and right hemifields to process visual information in parallel. Here, we examined whether a bilateral field advantage can also be observed in a high-level visual task that requires the information from both hemifields to be combined. To this end, we used a visual enumeration task--a task that requires the assimilation of separate visual items into a single quantity--where the to-be-enumerated items were either presented in one hemifield or distributed between the two visual fields. We found that enumerating large number (>4 items), but not small number (<4 items), exhibited the bilateral field advantage: enumeration was more accurate when the visual items were split between the left and right hemifields than when they were all presented within the same hemifield. Control experiments further showed that this effect could not be attributed to a horizontal alignment advantage of the items in the visual field, or to a retinal stimulation difference between the unilateral and bilateral displays. These results suggest that a bilateral field advantage can arise when the visual task involves inter-hemispheric integration. This is in line with previous research and theory indicating that, when the visual task is attentionally demanding, parallel processing by the neural responses to the left and right hemifields can expand the capacity of visual information processing.