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Bradley S. Gibson, Ted A. Bryant; What kind of attention is controlled by irrelevant symbolic cues?. Journal of Vision 2005;5(8):506. doi: 10.1167/5.8.506.
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Twenty years ago, Jonides (1981) concluded that irrelevant symbolic cues (arrows presented at fixation) do not elicit involuntary shifts of attention within the context of the spatial cuing paradigm; however, this view has recently begun to change. Over the past few years, a wealth of evidence has been interpreted to suggest that symbolic cues can elicit involuntary shifts of attention under a wide range of different stimulus and task conditions (Eimer, 1997; Gibson & Bryant, in press; Hommel, Pratt, Colzato, & Godijn, 2001; Pratt & Hommel, 2004; Ristic, Friesen, & Kingstone, 2002; Tipples, 2002). However, the conclusion that irrelevant symbolic cues can elicit shifts of spatial attention has been founded primarily on the presence of a “cue validity effect,” indicating faster response times when the target happens to appear at a spatially-cued location than when it appears at an uncued location. In several experiments, we challenge this standard interpretation by employing a display size manipulation. In each experiment, irrelevant symbolic arrow cues were presented briefly just before visual search displays that contained either 4 or 8 visually-similar letters. Consistent with previous studies, the results showed a significant cue validity effect; however, of critical importance was the finding that the magnitude of this effect remained constant across display size, suggesting that the orientation of attention was not influenced by the presence of the irrelevant symbolic cue. Instead these results appear to reflect the operation of a conflict resolution process that becomes sensitive to the correspondence between the initially cued location and target's actual location after the search for the target has been completed. Altogether, the present findings suggest that irrelevant symbolic cues may influence the anterior attention system more than the posterior attention system.
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