Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Reconceptualizing Inhibition of Return as Habituation of the Orienting Response

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Reconceptualizing Inhibition of Return as Habituation of the Orienting Response

Article excerpt

Inhibition of return (IOR) is an effect on spatial attention whereby reaction times to a target presented at a location where a stimulus had recently been presented are increased, as opposed to when a target is presented at a new location. Despite early reports that habituation is not responsible for the IOR effect, the human cognitive literature provides indirect evidence in favor of the possibility. In addition, recent neurophysiological studies provide direct support for the idea that habituation is at least a contributing source for the IOR effect. The present article describes how habituation may account for the IOR effect and explores some of the predictions that this hypothesis suggests.

Unpredictable events in peripheral vision often cause an automatic covert shift of attention to the location of the event (Posner & Cohen, 1984). The consequence of this shift of attention is that once attention is withdrawn from the exogenous event, attention is slower to return to this location than it is to deploy to a new location- an effect called inhibition of return (IOR; Posner, Rafal, Choate, & Vaughan, 1985). It has been proposed that IOR is a mechanism through which events at novel locations are given priority over events at a previously inspected location. The consequences of unexpected events are commonly studied using the Posner cuing paradigm, in which a target to be detected is preceded by a brief orienting event (a "cue") that does not predict the location of the target to follow. Generally, if the cue-target stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) is less than approximately 150 msec, people are faster to detect the target if it appears at the same location as the cue than they are if it appears at a different location-an effect called facilitation. When the SOA is greater than approximately 200 msec, this trend is reversed. It is this reverse trend that is the IOR effect (Klein, 2000).

The Posnerian description of orienting to exogenously presented stimuli and its consequences was not the first such characterization; these concepts were previously described within a physiological framework. Pavlov (1927) was the first to describe the orienting reflex as a product of an organism's directing the appropriate receptor organs toward novel events in the environment. The orienting response is subject to habituation-a decrease in the magnitude of the orienting response with repeated presentations of a stimulus that is not paired with an outcome. A variety of physiological changes occur when an organism detects a novel stimulus, including pupil dilation, the electrodermal response, a pause in respiration, and vasoconstriction in the periphery, among others (Barry, 2006). Although these changes are not perceptual, what these changes represented was considered perceptual by Sokolov (1963), who provided a conceptual theory of the orienting response and its habituation. In his comparator theory, Sokolov described the orienting response as the major unit of perceptual functioning. He proposed that the presentation of a novel stimulus generates a representation of the stimulus preattentively, at the neuronal level. Incoming stimuli are compared with this model, and if there is a mismatch, an orienting response is generated. This response is graded, so that the greater the mismatch, the greater the orienting response. With repeated presentations of the same stimulus, the neuronal model becomes an increasingly more accurate representation of the real stimulus, resulting in a continuously smaller orienting response with each stimulus presentation. A change in any aspect of the stimulus in relation to the "model" will evoke a new orienting response, even the omission of a stimulus presentation.1 This suggests that Sokolov's conception of the neuronal model contains all parameters of the stimulus, including its temporal characteristics.

Given the shared topic of interest, it is unclear why cognitive researchers have been reluctant to explore some of the attentional concepts developed in the physiology literature. …

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