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Adrian von Muhlenen, Markus Conci; Working memory load and attentional capture by unpredicted color changes. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):363. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/12.9.363.
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Previous studies have shown that new objects are more salient in capturing attention than abrupt changes in old objects, such as color changes. One exception is a study by Lu and Zhou (2005, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review), which reported strong capture for color changes. However, we had argued that capture only occurred because the search item colors were randomly switched between trials (von Muhlenen and Conci, 2009, Psychological Research). The current study investigates how attentional capture depends on the interaction between type of task (detection, discrimination) and experimental design (blocked, mixed). The first two experiments used a target detection task (i.e., search for a letter "U", absent or present), whereas the third and fourth experiments used a target discrimination task (i.e., search for a letter U or H). In both task types the actual displays and the used response keys were the same – the only difference was the instruction. Experiment 1 used the detection task in a blocked design (fixed color assignments); the result showed that under these conditions a color change did not capture attention, replicating previous studies (e.g., von Muhlenen & Conci, 2009). Experiment 2 used the detection task in a mixed design (random color assignments); now a color change did capture attention, replicating Lu and Zhou (2005). Experiment 3 used the discrimination task in a blocked design and found again no capture effect, also in line with previous studies (e.g., von Muhlenen, Rempel & Enns, 2005, Psychological Science). Finally, Experiment 4 used the discrimination task in a mixed design and found no capture effect. These findings can be explained within the framework of an attentional guidance model where the ability to ignore an event depends critically on the continuity of the color assignments and on the amount of working memory required by the specific type of task.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012
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