September 2019
Volume 19, Issue 10
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   May 2019
Probing the early attentional benefits of negative templates
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Ziyao Zhang
    Psychology department, Lehigh University
  • Nicholas Gaspelin
    Psychology department, Binghamton University, State University of New York.
  • Nancy B. Carlisle
    Psychology department, Lehigh University
Journal of Vision May 2019, Vol.19, 315. doi:
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      Ziyao Zhang, Nicholas Gaspelin, Nancy B. Carlisle; Probing the early attentional benefits of negative templates. Journal of Vision 2019;19(10):315. doi:

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

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Previous research has revealed cuing distractor color can benefit search performance compared to uninformative cues (Arita, Carlisle, & Woodman, 2012). However, the benefits from negative cues are consistently smaller than benefits from positive cues (cuing target color), even when both cues mean participants only need to search through half of the array. This suggests that using a negative template is less effective than using a positive template. Here, we tested the early attentional effects of the negative template and compared it with positive template using the probe technique (Gaspelin, Leonard, & Luck, 2015). On most trials, participants performed a search task for a shape-defined target after receiving positive, negative or neutral color cue. On occasional trials, letters were briefly presented on top of search items, and participants were required to report these letters, providing a snapshot of attention to potential targets vs. distractors. In three experiments, we varied timing of probe letters (100 ms, 250 ms or 400 ms after search array onset). All three experiments replicated the RT benefits on search trials from previous results. Crucially, on probe trials, participants recalled more letters on target-colored locations than letters on distractor-colored locations following both positive and negative cues. Moreover, the benefits of these cues were larger at the later probe times than 100ms for both positive and negative cues (p’s < .01), indicating both cues became more effective across time during search. These results suggest that the time course of negative template effectiveness during search is similar to that of positive template. However, negative template probe benefits were consistently not as potent as positive cues (p’s < .001) in guiding attention toward target features. The probe results help explain the previously reported differences in RT benefit following positive and negative cues, and support the idea of early active attentional suppression.


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