Previous research has demonstrated that decision processes and short-term memory limitations contribute to the observed limitation in the span of apprehension in tachistoscopic experiments. The present study addresses the question of whether perceptual factors also contribute to this limitation. Observers were asked to indicate which of four target letters occurred in a four-item test display. The irrelevant background items were either highly confusable or completely nonconfusable with the target letters. The target detection task is designed to bypass short-term memory limitations. In order to eliminate differences in decision processing, the location of the target letter was indicated either slightly before or shortly after the display presentation. The indicator was either an arrow cue or a pattern mask. Performance decreased with increases in the delay of the arrow cue only when the background items were confusable. The pattern mask yielded standard masking functions, but performance with the nonconfusable background items improved more rapidly with increases in processing time than did performance with the confusable background items. These results conform to the hypothesis that attention operates at the perceptual stage of processing. The results were accurately described by a quantification of attentional effects in a general information processing model.