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Corbin Cunningham, Howard Egeth; Loosening the Snare: Top-down goals overcome singleton driven attentional capture. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):320. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/15.12.320.
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Previous work suggests that salient distractors capture attention during visual search (Theeuwes, 2010). However, additional studies have demonstrated that this is not always the case. For example, when observers search for a specific shape feature (e.g. a square), they are able to overcome attentional capture by a color singleton (Egeth, Leonard, & Leber, 2010). Alternatively, when observers are not given specific information about what the target will look like (i.e., search for any singleton shape), they are captured by the presence of an irrelevant color singleton. Can observers learn to use top-down attentional goals during singleton search to suppress capture by a salient distractor? Our study utilized a between-subjects design where both groups received two trial types: trials with a salient distractor singleton (either a red among green objects or a green among red objects, counterbalanced across participants) and trials without a salient distractor (either all green or all red). Observers searched for an oddball letter in a circular array (a B among Fs or a F among Bs) and responded whether the letter was capitalized or lowercase. The target letter and the set of distractor letters were each randomly assigned a case (capitalized or lowercase) on each trial. Critically, for one group we provided cues prior to trials with a salient distractor (e.g. “Ignore Green”) and cues for trials without salient singleton distractors (“Neutral”). Results revealed that observers who received cues learned to overcome singleton-driven attentional capture. However, the group that did not receive cues demonstrated typical attentional capture for the duration of the experiment. Additionally, we found that the group that received cues was faster than the group that did not receive cues, suggesting that the additional top-down goal processes did not result in less efficient search. These results indicate that distractor expectancy can override attentional capture.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015
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