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Adrian von Muhlenen, Markus Conci; On the ability to overcome attention capture in visual search. Journal of Vision 2009;9(8):116. doi: 10.1167/9.8.116.
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A sudden change in color is typically less salient in capturing attention than the onset of a new object. However, a meta-analysis of four visual search experiments (N=46) revealed that color changes initially (i.e., in the first 90 trials) do capture attention, but thereafter the effect disappears. This decline can be explained with an account, where the initial bottom-up capture is later “overridden” by a top-down inhibition process. This inhibitory tagging takes some time to build up, probably because the viewer must first experience that the color change as such is not relevant for the current task. The equivalent meta-analysis for onsets also revealed that new objects continue to capture attention. On the basis of the inhibitory account it is argued that onsets are special because they do not differ from the other elements in the display. Two experiments showed that onsets cease to capture attention when they become different from the other search elements in color (Experiment 1) or in luminance (Experiment 2). Experiment 3 on the other hand showed that color changes continue to capture attention when the color change is reversed, such that the changed element no longer differs from the other elements in the search display. The findings of these three experiments provide further evidence for the inhibitory account.
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