Sustained visual attention is more than seeing

Lei Yuan, Tian Linger Xu, Chen Yu, Linda Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
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Sustained visual attention is a well-studied cognitive capacity that is relevant to many developmental outcomes. The development of visual attention is often construed as an increased capacity to exert top-down internal control. We demonstrate that sustained visual attention, measured in terms of momentary eye gaze, emerges from and is tightly tied to sensory-motor coordination. Specifically, we examined whether and how changes in manual behavior alter toddlers’ eye gaze during toy play. We manipulated manual behavior by giving one group of children heavy toys that were hard to pick up and giving another group of children perceptually identical toys that were lighter and easy to pick up and hold. We found a tight temporal coupling of visual attention with the duration of manual activities on the objects, a relation that cannot be explained by interest alone. Toddlers in the heavy-object condition looked at objects as much as toddlers in the light-object condition but did so through many brief glances, whereas looks to the same objects were longer and sustained in the light-object condition. We explain the results based on the mechanism of hand–eye coordination and discuss its implications for the development of visual attention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-336
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date19 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019

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