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Jeff Moher, Howard Egeth; Informative cues attenuate attentional capture by irrelevant distractors. Journal of Vision 2009;9(8):112. doi: 10.1167/9.8.112.
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Irrelevant color distractors capture a participant's attention during search for a unique shape. However, this capture may not be a purely bottom-up process. Recent research in our lab (Moher, Egeth, Yantis, and Stuphorn, in preparation) has demonstrated that foreknowledge of the probability that an irrelevant color distractor will appear has an impact on the attentional capture achieved by that specific distractor; expected distractors caused less interference in visual search compared to unexpected distractors in both eye tracking and manual response time data. Recently, we have begun exploring whether giving participants information about the upcoming distractor, such as its location or color, will attenuate the effects of capture. In a series of experiments, participants searched for a unique shape among 8 otherwise homogenous shapes, and there was a color distractor present on half of all trials. Prior to each trial, subjects received one of three different cue types. One cue type was neutral, which contained no information about a distractor on the upcoming trial. A second cue type told participants that there would be a distractor on the upcoming trial. A third cue type told participants either the color of the upcoming distractor (Experiment. 1) or the location of the upcoming distractor (Experiment 2). All cues were 100% predictive. Cues that were informative about the color, location, or even mere presence of an upcoming singleton distractor lead to less interference by that distractor. Previous research has shown that participants can use information about an upcoming target to speed visual search. These results suggest that participants are able to incorporate information about an upcoming irrelevant distractor in order to attenuate the effects of that distractor and thus speed visual search as well.
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