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Heather Hansen, Jessica Irons, Andrew Leber; A secondary task leads to poorer selection of attentional control strategies. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):634. doi: 10.1167/18.10.634.
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There are many strategies we can use to control attention when approaching a visual search task. For example, when searching for your vehicle in a parking lot, you may choose to bias your attention toward particular features of your vehicle, such as its color or size, to aid in your search. However, the most optimal strategy depends on properties of the environment, requiring necessary updates when searching through different environments. Thus, we have proposed that in order to search most optimally, individuals must engage a monitoring mechanism to assess their environment and determine the optimal control settings. In the present experiment, we examined whether the use of an optimal strategy can be disrupted by a secondary task that occurs at the start of the trial, when the monitoring mechanism would be most engaged. We used a visual search task where individuals are presented a search display composed of subsets of colored squares in which they can freely search for either of two targets – red or blue – on every trial (Adaptive Choice Visual Search, Irons & Leber, 2016). In each display, the number of items in the red and blue subsets differed such that one color contained twice as many items as the other, with the larger and smaller subset colors alternating periodically; the optimal strategy would be to search for the target in the smaller color subset. On some blocks, participants also completed the secondary task, a central line-length judgment, immediately before searching for a target. We found that participants were significantly less likely to search optimally under these conditions than when completing the search task by itself. Insofar as the secondary task disrupts an individual's ability to engage in monitoring, these results support the need for such a mechanism in the optimal choice of attentional control settings.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018
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