Multiple object tracking is a common experimental psychology paradigm for investigating sustained visual attention.
Sustained visual attention refers to the prolonged ability to selectively process aspects of a visual scene.
For example, everyday situations, like driving a car through busy city streets, often demand sustained attention, as opposed to brief focus when crossing a busy street.
In an exceptionally complex and engaging world, paying more attention to certain stimuli rather than others is critical for safety and survival.
This video demonstrates methods for investigating sustained visual attention through multiple object tracking, including how to design the stimulus, perform the experiment, and how to analyze and interpret data.
In this straightforward experiment, all participants are asked to mentally track specific discs on a computer screen.
In this case, multiple discs are initially presented as identical objects of the same color, like blue. Half of them are then altered to appear as a different color, such as yellow. These yellow discs become the targets, which participants are asked to track.
For each trial, the number of discs to track, referred to as the tracking load, is manipulated and randomly presented to contain 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 targets with an equal number of non-targets.
Once the targets are identified, all discs return to their blue state and move around a computer screen for 10 seconds.
When the motion period elapses, participants are asked to identify which ones they believe are targets. Here, the dependent variable is the number of targets correctly identified in each trial, also referred to as performance accuracy.
As more targets are tracked, participants are expected to show decreased accuracy. Thus, sustained attention becomes more difficult when the scene is more complex.
To create the stimuli for this study, program identical discs to randomly display on a computer screen. Note that the number will range from four to 14 in total during each trial and the color varies, depending on the trial phase.
To begin the study, greet the participant and ask for consent in writing to participate in the experiment. Make sure that participants do not have any known vision impairments and report 20-20 vision, with or without correction.
After the participant consents to the experiment, have them sit approximately 60 cm away from the monitor. To ensure this distance, use a piece of tape on the floor to mark the position of the leading edge of the seat.
Before starting the program, explain the instructions to the participant, emphasizing that some trials may seem difficult, but they should always do their best and guess if they are uncertain about how to respond.
To make sure each participant understands the directions, load the program and watch them complete five practice trials with only two targets.
As the final step, leave the testing room and allow each participant to complete 60 trials with variable difficulty. Note that the task is programmed to randomize the tracking load during each trial.
To analyze the data, compute the performance accuracy by dividing the number of targets correctly identified by the number of targets assigned for each trial.
To visualize tracking performance, graph the mean accuracy values as a function of tracking load. Notice that participants perform relatively accurately with only 2-4 targets to track.
While performance decreased as the number of targets increased, also notice that performance is closer to chance when participants are asked to track the maximum of 7 targets.
Now that you are familiar with designing a multiple object tracking paradigm, you can apply this approach to answer specific questions about sustained visual attention.
For example, researchers interested in the limits of sustained attention engaged participants in conversation while performing the task. Perhaps unsurprisingly, individuals made significantly more tracking errors when they were distracted-which explains why drivers cannot remain attentive if they multi-task while driving down the street.
In addition, the paradigm has been used to investigate differences in attentional abilities between individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, those given therapeutic interventions such as Ritalin, and age-matched controls. In this case, participants given Ritalin showed improved sustained attention, such that fewer tracking errors were made as the tracking loads increased.
You've just watched JoVE's introduction to multiple object tracking. Now you should have a good understanding of how to design and perform the experiment, as well as how to analyze results and apply the phenomenon of sustained visual attention.
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