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Juan Guevara Pinto, Megan Papesh, Stephen Goldinger, Michael Hout; Enhanced distractor memory following difficult search: The role of attention allocation in incidental encoding. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):813. doi: 10.1167/18.10.813.
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There exists a paradoxical finding in visual search: When observers search for multiple targets, relative to single targets, they are slower and less accurate, yet have better incidental memory for non-target items encountered throughout the task (Hout & Goldinger, 2010). One explanation for these effects may be that observers titrate their attention allocation based on the subjective difficulty suggested by the search cue. When observers expect a difficult (e.g., multiple-target) search, they may dedicate additional resources to the primary task by increasing visual scrutiny of each object, which enhances incidental distractor encoding. Across two experiments, we replicated and extended prior work by examining the mnemonic and attentional consequences of easy versus difficult Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) search cues. In Experiment 1, observers monitored RSVP search streams following relatively difficult cues (words) or easier cues (pictures). Although primary task performance was better with pictures cues, observers exhibited better incidental recognition for distractors following word cues. In Experiment 2, we examined whether easy and difficult search cues lead to different levels attention allocation, which could underlie differences in subsequent distractor recognition. In 20% of search trials, a peripheral shape appeared at various degrees of visual angle off the central RSVP stream. Observers' task was to identify the peripheral distractor without sacrificing primary task accuracy. Replicating Experiment 1, search performance was better following picture cues. More importantly, observers were also more likely to accurately identify the peripheral distractor on pictured-cued trials, suggesting that picture and word cues demand different levels of attentional engagement. Specifically, observers seem to focus additional attentional resources on the central RSVP stream when search will be relatively difficult, causing them to miss peripheral distractors, but potentially remember central distractors.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018
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