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Christine Salahub, Stephen Emrich; Divergent effects of positive and negative cueing on target enhancement and distractor suppression. Journal of Vision 2020;20(11):782. https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.11.782.
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During visual search, one can use information about target features, such as color or shape, to guide attention (positive cueing). Attention can also be guided away from irrelevant items through active suppression of distractor features (negative cueing). Although previous studies have observed faster search times following a negative cue, when the task is relatively easy (i.e. smaller set size), negative cues tend to slow responses. It has been suggested that this is due to initial bottom-up attentional capture by the negatively cued feature, followed by its suppression (i.e. ‘search and destroy’ mechanism). Here, we aimed to better understand the time course of these cueing effects by examining event-related potentials related to target enhancement (N2pc) and distractor suppression (PD). Participants (N = 20) completed a lateralized visual search task wherein they had to find a target line within a colored circle. On each trial, participants were provided with a color cue indicating whether the target would be within the circle of that particular color, not within that color, or an uninformative cue. We found that participants could use positive cues to focus attention on the target item (as indicated by the N2pc) and suppress the distractor (as indicated by the PD). In contrast, when given a negative cue, participants inappropriately attended to the distractor color, followed by its active suppression. Ability to suppress the negatively cued distractor was related to individual differences in anxiety. These results provide electrophysiological evidence of the ‘search and destroy’ mechanism of negative search templates, and suggest that the ability to use negative cue information to benefit performance differs across individuals.
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