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Brian Levinthal, Alejandro Lleras; Does the distractor preview effect extend to search-irrelevant features?. Journal of Vision 2007;7(9):537. doi: 10.1167/7.9.537.
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The distractor preview effect (DPE) refers to the finding that observers are slower to respond to a target in an oddball-feature search if that target's defining feature had previously characterized a set of distractors in a target-absent array (i.e. responses to a red target are slower if a set of red distractors has previously been viewed). Here, we tested whether the DPE is limited to search-relevant features. Participants viewed arrays consisting of three equidistant items (colored circles and triangles), searching for a uniquely colored target, and reporting its shape. Our experiment modified the typical procedure for eliciting a color-DPE such that in half of the trials, target absent presentations consisted of homogenous shapes. As such, we were able to examine a potential DPE for features irrelevant to the search task. Our results indicate that no such effect occurs for the search-irrelevant shape feature. This suggests that the mechanisms responsible for the DPE are selective to the task-relevant feature in the primary task. In other words, the inhibitory trace created in the target-absent trial is primarily associated with the feature that determines the absence of a target in that trial (the no-go feature). The lack of a DPE for search-irrelevant features is consistent with previous studies concerning the role of task-relevance in the DPE (Ariga, Lleras, and Kawahara, 2004). Results are discussed in the context of Lleras et al. (under review) and Wan and Lleras (submitted) theory of the DPE, which explains this effect as arising from inter-trial inhibition of focused attention to the no-go feature.
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