Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Contingent Attentional Capture Occurs by Activated Target Congruence

Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Contingent Attentional Capture Occurs by Activated Target Congruence

Article excerpt

Contingent attentional capture occurs when a stimulus property captures an observer's attention, usually related to the observer's top-down attentional set for target-defining properties. In this study, we examined whether contingent attentional capture occurs for a distractor that does not share the target-defining property at a physical level, but does share that property at an abstract level of representation. In a rapid serial visual presentation stream, we defined the target by color (e.g., a green-colored Japanese kanji character). Before the target onset, we presented a distractor that referred to the target-defining color (e.g., a white-colored character meaning "green"). We observed contingent attentional capture by the distractor, which was reflected by a deficit in identifying the subsequent target. This result suggests that because of the attentional set, stimuli were scanned on the basis of the target-defining property at an abstract semantic level of representation.

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Attentional selection of information from a stimulus array is controlled in at least two distinct ways (Yantis, 1993). One way involves the viewer's ability to control what regions or objects should be selected on the basis of the viewer's goals or intentions (i.e., goal-directed, or top-down, selection). The other way is stimulus-driven, or bottom-up, selection, which refers to the fact that certain properties of a stimulus may capture attention independently of the viewer's current goals or intentions. Whereas goal-directed selection generally helps viewers' performance, stimulus-driven selection potentially disrupts it, because needless selection sometimes occurs. This article focuses on an interesting interaction between the viewers' top-down intentions and stimulus-driven attentional selection, which is known as contingent attentional capture. Contingent attentional capture is a phenomenon in which the viewer's attention is driven to select (or is captured by) a stimulus that looks like the current target.

Contingent attentional capture has conventionally been explained in terms of needless shifts of spatial attention. For example, Folk, Remington, and Johnston (1992) found that responses to red targets were slower when they were preceded by a nonpredictive, or to-be-ignored, red cue that was presented at a spatial location different from the target location. They argued that because the target-defining property was the color red, all red objects were capable of capturing attention. Thus, when a red cue was presented at the wrong location, attention was involuntarily shifted to that location, which was a needless shift because an additional spatial shift was required to redirect attention to the target location. As alternative evidence of contingent attentional capture, Folk, Leber, and Egeth (2002) showed a transient deficit in target processing in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) task. Observers viewed an RSVP stream of letters and searched for a target letter defined by a specific color (e.g., green). Before the target appearance, four distractors (#s) were presented at spatial locations adjacent to the RSVP stream. Identification accuracy for the target dropped sharply when one of the #s was presented in the target-defining color (e.g., green), whereas accuracy stayed constant when the distractors were a different color (e.g., gray). The obtained result was interpreted as a transient deficit in target processing caused by contingent attentional capture-that is, the needless shift of spatial attention away from the RSVP stream.

In summary, it is likely that the selection of targets requires observers to establish a top-down attentional set for the target-defining property (e.g., the color green). Then, using the established attentional set, the observers select the corresponding stimuli (e.g., green objects) as potential targets, whether or not they are really targets, on the basis of bottom-up stimulus properties processed preattentively. …

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