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Dekel Abeles, Shlomit Yuval-Greenberg; How does the visual system handle spatially predictable visual interference during a non-visual task?. Journal of Vision 2019;19(10):104d. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/19.10.104d.
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Participants often avert their gaze from irrelevant visual stimulation while engaged in non-visual tasks. We have previously suggested the “overt disengagement hypothesis”, claiming that the role of gaze aversions is to avoid the automatic processing of complex task-irrelevant visual stimuli in order to free up attentional resources for the non-visual task. While this explanation accounts for gaze aversions in the presence of complex visual stimulation, it does not explain why gaze aversions occur even when there are no complex visual distractors. In the present study we tested the hypothesis that during non-visual tasks, gaze is averted not only from locations where visual stimulation is presented but also from the predicted location of appearance of future distractors. Participants performed a continuous mental arithmetic task which required no visual information: they were instructed to continuously subtract or add seven to a 3-digit number presented briefly at the beginning of the trial. In random timings, a crowded display (distractor) appeared briefly in one of the four quartiles of the screen, in a constant location throughout each block. The distractor consisted of either 3-digit numbers (high-relevance to the task) or mirrored images of the same numbers (low-relevance to the task). Results show that, when performing the mental arithmetic task, participants tended to spend most of the time, fixating on the center of the screen. However, when they drifted away from fixation, they tended to do so towards the direction opposite the location of the predicted distractor. There was no difference in behavior between low-relevance and high-relevance distractors. We conclude that gaze aversion behavior is, at least partially, influenced by the predicted location of potential disruption regardless of its contextual relevance. This indicates that gaze aversion behavior is not a mere response to the presentation of a physical stimulus but depends on theoretical statistical inference.
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