Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Variations in the Magnitude of Attentional Capture: Testing a Two-Process Model

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Variations in the Magnitude of Attentional Capture: Testing a Two-Process Model

Article excerpt

Although large variations in the magnitude of attentional capture have been evidenced across a wide range of studies and paradigms (see Burnham, 2007, for a review), the nature of these variations is unclear. In the present study, we used a modified spatial cuing task to address two related issues. In the first experiment, we explored the hypothesis that the magnitude of attentional capture varies systematically as a function of cue-target similarity. Targets of a particular color were preceded by uninformative peripheral cues carrying varying percentages of the target color. As was predicted, the magnitude of attentional capture varied directly with the similarity between cue and target. In the second experiment, we explored whether these similarity effects reflect a mixture of trials on which attention is fully captured and trials on which attention is not captured at all (i.e., a two-process model). A mixture analysis conducted on obtained reaction time distributions proved inconsistent with a two-process model.

Given the informational demands of the visual environment, combined with limitations on attentional resources, a crucial task of the visual perceptual system is to selectively allocate limited attentional resources to elements of the visual field that are most critical to current behavioral goals. The hypothetical mechanism that accomplishes this task is referred to as selective attention. One goal of research on selective attention has been to characterize the processes by which attentional resources are allocated. This research has firmly established that attention allocation can result either from the voluntary push of attention to relevant locations or objects (e.g., Posner, 1980) or from the involuntary pull of attentional resources by salient stimuli, a phenomenon known as attentional capture (e.g., Jonides, 1981; Yantis & Jonides, 1984).

A number of paradigms have been developed to study attentional capture. In the irrelevant singleton paradigm, participants search for a target in a display that contains a singleton in some feature property, such as abrupt onset or color. Attentional capture is reflected in flat search slopes for targets that happen to appear at the singleton location (Yantis & Jonides, 1984). In the additional singleton paradigm, participants search for a singleton target in displays in which one of the nontargets is also a singleton in a different feature dimension. Capture is assumed if response times (RTs) are longer in the presence of this distractor than when no singleton distractor appears in the display (e.g., Theeuwes, 1992). In the modified spatial cuing paradigm, target search displays are preceded by a cue display containing a singleton whose location is uncorrelated with the location of the subsequent target. Capture is present if there are shorter RTs when the target appears at the cued location than when it appears at an uncued location (valid and invalid cue trials, respectively; e.g., Folk, Remington, & Johnston, 1992). Finally, capture has also been studied using a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) paradigm, in which participants search for a target in a stream of characters appearing at fixation. Capture of spatial attention is reflected in a reduction in the accuracy of target detection associated with the presentation of irrelevant singletons in the periphery (e.g., Folk, Leber, & Egeth, 2002).

The results of these different paradigms have not always converged, which has led to fundamentally different theoretical perspectives with regard to issues such as the degree to which attentional capture is cognitively penetrable. Primarily on the basis of the results of the additional singleton paradigm, some have argued that attention allocation is prioritized in terms of a strict bottom-up salience ranking (Theeuwes, 1992, 1994). For example, Theeuwes (1992) found that irrelevant additional singletons slowed search down only if they were more salient than the target singleton. …

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