September 2017
Volume 17, Issue 10
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2017
Neural Correlates of Learning to Ignore
Author Affiliations
  • Corbin Cunningham
    Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, The Johns Hopkins University
  • Jeff Moher
    Psychology Department, Williams College
  • Annie Tran
    Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, University of Delaware
  • James Hoffman
    Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, University of Delaware
  • Howard Egeth
    Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, The Johns Hopkins University
Journal of Vision August 2017, Vol.17, 980. doi:
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      Corbin Cunningham, Jeff Moher, Annie Tran, James Hoffman, Howard Egeth; Neural Correlates of Learning to Ignore. Journal of Vision 2017;17(10):980. doi:

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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If you are given a direct cue to ignore specific distracting information it counterintuitively hurts rather than helps search performance (e.g. Moher & Egeth, 2012; Tsal & Makovski, 2006). However, Cunningham & Egeth (2016) recently found ignoring cues can have a benefit, given sufficient experience that facilitates learning. Early on in their experiment, cueing observers about the to-be-ignored feature (e.g., the target won't be red) slowed RTs compared to a neutral control condition. However, as observers learned the specific to-be-ignored feature over time, RTs were much faster on these "ignore" trials compared to "neutral" trials. While Cunningham and Egeth (2016) found a behavioral benefit to learning to ignore, the attentional mechanisms that support this behavior remain unclear. Therefore, we used electroencephalographic recordings to investigate the neural mechanisms of attention supporting this pattern of behavior. In the present study, observers performed a search task in which a single target letter was presented among 11 non-target letters on each trial. Six of the letters shared the same majority color (e.g., red) while the other six were shown in random heterogeneous colors. On half the trials, a pre-trial cue validly instructed participants to ignore a particular distractor color (e.g., "Ignore Red") which corresponded to the 6 items in the majority color. On the other half of trials, the pre-trial cue provided no information (i.e., "Neutral"). We replicated the behavioral results of Cunningham & Egeth (2016). Critically, while the behavioral data show a clear benefit from learning to ignore, we observed patterns of neural activity related to an initial shift of selective attention towards the to-be-ignored objects (e.g., N2pc), suggesting that selective attention is still a part of directed ignoring even after sufficient learning. Our results demonstrate that the benefit from learning to ignore might arise from rapidly shifting attention to the to-be-ignored items.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2017


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