Variability of response times as a marker of diverted attention

Paolo Bartolomeo, E Siéroff, S Chokron, C. Decaix

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

25 Citations (Scopus)


Anderson et al. (Variability not ability: another basis for performance decrements in neglect. Neuropsychologia 2000;38:785-796) have recently reported that variability of response times (RTs) progressively increases from the right to the left side in left neglect patients. Anderson et al. propose that this lack of consistency is an important determinant of patients' behaviour, and may result from a deficit independent of other mechanisms causing neglect. Here we suggest that an increase of variability, and not only of RTs, is to be expected when attention is exogenously biased away from the probed location. Consequently, space-based variability can be interpreted in the framework of existing models of unilateral neglect. According to one such model, a basic impairment in left neglect is a bias toward rightward exogenous orienting of attention. As a result, left targets often fail to rapidly capture patients' attention, thus yielding slow RTs. However, since the probability for a left target attracting attention is low but not null, relatively fast RTs can occur on those rare occasions in which a left target does capture patients' attention. The coexistence of these relatively fast with slow RTs could be at the basis of space-based variability in neglect. Empirical support for our hypothesis comes from the results of a re-analysis for variability of cued RTs obtained in 18 normal individuals and six left neglect patients. Cues were peripheral and non-informative, thus eliciting an exogenous attentional shift. For normal individuals, invalid trials yielded less consistent response times than valid trials at short (150 ms) cue-target interval; for neglect patients, a similar phenomenon occurred for left invalidly-cued targets, thus paralleling the disproportionate cost in RTs typically evoked by this condition in unilateral neglect. We conclude by discussing some possible determinants of gradient-shaped effects and by outlining the implications of space-based variability for current models of unilateral neglect.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358-363
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attention
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perceptual Disorders
  • Reaction Time
  • Space Perception
  • Task Performance and Analysis


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