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Emma W. Dowd, Anastasia Kiyonaga, Tobias Egner, Stephen R. Mitroff; Individual differences may reveal distinct mechanisms of attentional guidance. Journal of Vision 2013;13(9):1142. doi: 10.1167/13.9.1142.
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The contents of working memory have been repeatedly found to guide the allocation of visual attention; for example, in a dual-task paradigm that combines working memory and visual search, an item active in working memory will be preferentially attended to during search (e.g., Soto, Heinke, Humphreys, & Blanco, 2005). There is much debate about whether such memory-based attentional guidance is automatic (Soto et al., 2005) or voluntary (Woodman & Luck, 2007). Generally, two distinct paradigms have been employed to assess memory-based guidance, one demonstrating that attention is uncontrollably captured by memory-matching stimuli (even at a cost to search performance), and one demonstrating that participants can strategically avoid memory-matching distractors to facilitate search performance. To examine why the different paradigms—which presumably tap into the same attentional mechanism—might support contrasting interpretations (automatic vs. voluntary), the current study utilized an individual differences approach: participants completed a battery of cognitive tasks that included an automatic attentional guidance paradigm (cf. Soto et al., 2005), a voluntary attentional guidance paradigm (cf. Woodman & Luck, 2007), as well as measures of visual working memory capacity and operation span. Participants exhibited varying levels of attentional guidance across both paradigms, allowing for meaningful individual differences assessments. Surprisingly, performance on the automatic guidance paradigm did not correlate with performance on the voluntary guidance paradigm, suggesting that these two paradigms—which have previously produced contrasting patterns of performance—may probe distinct mechanisms of attentional guidance. Furthermore, working memory capacity was more strongly predictive of performance in the automatic than the voluntary paradigm, suggesting that the automatic paradigm is more reliant on working memory capacity. The present results illustrate the utility of an individual differences approach for characterizing the processes linking working memory and visual attention.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2013
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