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Dominique Lamy, Itay Yaron, Elinor Hadas; Spatial cueing effects do not necessarily index spatial shifts of attention. Journal of Vision 2020;20(11):1141. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.11.1141.
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Many attentional capture studies rely on the spatial-cueing paradigm to elucidate what factors guide attention, yet have yielded conflicting findings. These studies assume that faster responses for targets appearing at a cue’s location indicate that this cue captured attention and was therefore mandatorily processed. Here, we challenge this canonical interpretation of spatial cueing effects. Participants searched for a color-defined target among distractors, following a spatially uninformative color cue. In Study 1, the cue either shared or did not share the target color and the distractors’ similarity to the target was varied. Spatial-cueing effects were observed even when other indices revealed that attention was not allocated to the cue. The salience of the successive objects occurring at a given location and how similar they were to the target jointly determined where attention was allocated. These findings show that spatial-cueing effects do not necessarily index attentional shifts but instead reveal the extent to which the cue speeds the resolution of the competition between the target and distractors. In Study 2, we investigated what event triggers attentional deployment: the detection of the target feature or the search context. We used two independent response-compatibility manipulations to measure when attention was deployed: early, following the cueing display or later, following the search display. The pattern of response compatibility effects revealed that enhanced processing accrued only to the distractor that appeared at the cued location in the search display, and not to the cue. Taken together, these findings support the Priority Accumulation Framework (PAF), which suggests that attentional priority weights accumulate across time and that instead of relentlessly shifting our attention to potentially irrelevant events, we wait for clues that the appropriate moment has arrived to deploy our attention to the highest-priority location. Our interpretation of spatial cueing effects resolves enduring inconsistencies in the attentional-capture literature.
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