September 2005
Volume 5, Issue 8
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2005
Attentional capture by unique temporal change
Author Affiliations
  • Adrian von Muhlenen
    Ludwig-Maximilians-University (Munich)
  • Mark I. Rempel
    University of British Columbia
  • James T. Enns
    University of British Columbia
Journal of Vision September 2005, Vol.5, 504. doi:
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      Adrian von Muhlenen, Mark I. Rempel, James T. Enns; Attentional capture by unique temporal change. Journal of Vision 2005;5(8):504.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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The time course of attentional capture was measured in the preview search paradigm (Yantis & Joinides, 1984). Participants were first presented a circular preview display of figure eights. After one second two to four line segments of each figure eight were deleted to reveal a search display of letters, with two letters arbitrarily designated as targets. The participant's task was to press one of two keys as rapidly as possible to report target identity. Attentional capture was indexed by the relative ratio of RT slopes, taken over the display size, for targets that appear in unchanged versus unique display item locations. This is based on the assumption that when a unique item draws attention to itself, it will slow search if it happens to be one of the distractor letters.

The current study points to a temporal factor, over and above the importance of new objects and relative signal speed, which is critical for attentional capture. Attention is captured by temporally unique events. The results of three experiments show that feature changes capture attention as effectively as new objects provided they occur during a period in which the display is static. Conversely, these same feature changes do not capture attention when they occur simultaneously with other display changes, such as the sudden onset of all items or the deletion of some line segments in all items. Importantly, the results show that this unique event hypothesis applies to changes in color (Experiment 1), in motion (Experiment 2) and even to the sudden appearance of new objects (Experiment 3). These findings highlight the importance of considering both space and time in studies of attentional capture.

YantisS.JonidesJ. (1984). Abrupt visual onsets and selective attention: Evidence from visual search. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance, 10, 601–621.

von Muhlenen, A. Rempel, M. I. Enns, J. T. (2005). Attentional capture by unique temporal change [Abstract]. Journal of Vision, 5(8):504, 504a,, doi:10.1167/5.8.504. [CrossRef] [PubMed]

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