Perceptual merging contributes to cueing effects
An uninformative exogenous cue speeds target detection if cue and target appear in the same location separated by a brief temporal interval. This finding is usually ascribed to the orienting of spatial attention to the cued location. Here we examine the role of perceptual merging of the two trial events in speeded target detection. That is, the cue and target may be perceived as a single event when they appear in the same location. If so, cueing effects could reflect, in part, the binding of the perceived target onset to the earlier cue onset. We observed the traditional facilitation of cued over uncued targets and asked the same observers to judge target onset time by noting the time on a clock when the target appeared. Observers consistently judged the onset time of the target as being earlier than it appeared with cued targets judged as earlier than uncued targets. When the event order is reversed so that the target precedes the cue, perceived onset is accurate in both cued and uncued locations. This pattern of results suggests that perceptual merging does occur in exogenous cueing. A modified attention account is discussed that proposes reentrant processing, evident through perceptual merging, as the underlying mechanism of reflexive orienting of attention.