Goal-directed unequal attention allocation during multiple object tracking

Emily Crowe, Christina Howard, Angela Attwood, Chris Kent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
280 Downloads (Pure)


In standard multiple object tracking (MOT) tasks the relative importance of the targets being tracked is equal. This is atypical of everyday situations in which an individual may need to prioritise one target relative to another and so allocate attention unequally. We report three experiments that examined whether participants could unequally split attention using a modified MOT task in which target priority was manipulated. Specifically, we examined the effect of priority on participants’ magnitude of error and used a distribution mixture analysis to investigate how priority affected both participants’ probability of losing an item and tracking precision. Experiment 1 (trajectory tracking) revealed a higher magnitude of error and higher proportion of guessing for the low compared with high priority targets. Experiments 2 (trajectory tracking) and 3 (position tracking) examined how fine-grained this ability is by manipulating target priority at finer increments. In line with Experiment 1, results from both these experiments indicated that participants could split attention unequally. There was some evidence that participants could allocate attention unequally at fine increments, but this was less conclusive. Taken together, these experiments demonstrate participants’ ability to distribute attention unequally across multiple moving objects but suggest some limitation with the flexibility of attention allocation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1312-1326
Number of pages15
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number5
Early online date13 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2019

Structured keywords

  • Memory
  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Cognitive Science


  • Attention
  • Goal-directed
  • Multiple object tracking
  • Target priority
  • Unequal attention splitting


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