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Zachary Hamblin-Frohman, Stefanie I. Becker; Inhibition continues to guide search under concurrent visual working memory load. Journal of Vision 2022;22(2):8. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.22.2.8.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
It is well known that attention can be automatically attracted to salient items. However, recent studies show that it is possible to avoid distraction by a salient item (with a known feature), leading to facilitated search. This article tests a proposed mechanism for distractor inhibition: that a mental representation of the distractor feature held in visual working memory (VWM) allows attention to be guided away from the distractor. We tested this explanation by examining color-based inhibition in visual search for a shape target with and without VWM load. In Experiment 1 the presence of a distractor facilitated visual search under low and high VWM loads, as reflected in faster response times when the distractor was present (compared to absent), and in fewer eye movements to the salient distractor than the non-target items. However, the eye movement inhibition effect was noticeably weakened in the load conditions. Experiment 2 explored further, to distinguish between inhibition of the distractor color and activation of the (irrelevant) target color. Intermittently presenting single-color search trials that contained only either a target, distractor or a neutral-colored singleton revealed that the distractor color attracted attention less than the neutral color with and without VWM load. The target color, however, only attracted attention more than neutral colors under no load, whereas a VWM load completely eliminated this effect. This suggests that although VWM plays a role in guiding attention to the (irrelevant) target color, distractor-feature inhibition can operate independently.
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