Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

When Do Luminance Changes Capture Attention?

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

When Do Luminance Changes Capture Attention?

Article excerpt

Published online: 19 January 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract In two experiments, we examined the ability of task-irrelevant changes in luminance to capture attention in an irrelevant singleton search. By using uniform increment and decrement arrays, we were able to create changes of the same absolute magnitude, but resulting in a singleton with either higher or lower contrast magnitude, relative to other elements in the search array. A condition where a singleton changed contrast polarity without a concomitant change in the overall contrast magnitude was also included. It was found that only luminance changes resulting in a singleton having increased contrast (or saliency) were effective in capturing attention. In addition, no attentional capture was observed when the irrelevant singleton was characterized by the equivalent amount of static luminance differences, suggesting a unique attentional prioritization of luminance changes that increase singleton saliency.

Keywords Attentional capture . Visual search . Attention: Selective

The ability to focus on a particular aspect of a visual scene while disregarding others is essential for successful interaction with complex environments. It has been well established that many featural differences between individual objects, such as a unique color, luminance, or size, are effective in guiding attention when such properties are relevant to the current task (Bacon & Egeth, 1994; Folk, Remington, & Wright, 1994; Wolfe, 1994;Wolfe, Butcher, Lee, & Hyle, 2003). Although it has often been assumed that these salient properties possess a general ability to direct attention and establish processing priority, irrespective of the observer's goals, Yantis and Jonides (1984) were among the first to differentiate between efficient visual detection of salient features and obligatory attentional capture by those features. By now, there is a large body of evidence suggesting that suddenly appearing new elements are effective in capturing attention even when task irrelevant, whereas otherwise salient but static color and brightness differences fail to attract attention under such circumstances (Cole, Kuhn, Heywood, & Kentridge, 2009; Folk & Annett, 1994; Jonides& Yantis, 1988;Mounts, 2000; Rauschenberger, 2003; Yantis, 1993; Yantis & Egeth, 1999; Yantis & Jonides, 1984). However, the mechanisms by which the attentional prioritization of sudden onsets is accomplished continue to be the subject of much research and debate (Burnham, 2007; Pashler, Johnston,& Ruthruff, 2001; Rauschenberger, 2003; Theeuwes & Godjin, 2002; Yantis, 1993).

Attentional capture by sudden onsets: Spatiotemporal transients or new objects?

Although the superiority of attentional capture by sudden onsets was initially attributed to the large luminance transients accompanying them (Yantis & Jonides, 1984), their ability to capture attention even in the absence of large luminance changes has led to an influential hypothesis that sudden onsets attain a high attentional priority because they represent the appearance of a new object (Yantis, 1993; Yantis & Hillstrom, 1994; Yantis & Jonides, 1996; see also Rauschenberger & Yantis, 2001). However, the role of sensory change in attentional capture by sudden onsets continues to be revisited, and it is still debated whether such stimuli capture attention because of the visual system's special sensitivity to new objects (Cole & Kuhn, 2009; Cole, Kuhn, & Liversedge, 2007; Cole & Liversedge, 2006; Davoli, Suszko, & Abrams, 2007) or because of their intrinsic association with luminance or motion transients (Franconeri & Simons, 2003; Franconeri, Hollingworth, & Simons, 2005; Gellatly, Cole, & Blurton, 1999; Hollingworth, Simons, & Franconeri, 2010; Martin-Emerson & Kramer, 1997; Miller, 1989; Theeuwes, 1995).

Contentious theoretical interpretations aside, the accumulated empirical evidence suggests that luminance transients are necessary for attentional capture by sudden onsets. …

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