Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Effects of Relevant and Irrelevant Color Singletons on Inhibition of Return and Attentional Capture

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Effects of Relevant and Irrelevant Color Singletons on Inhibition of Return and Attentional Capture

Article excerpt

Published online: 12 September 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract We tested whether color singletons lead to saccadic and manual inhibition of return (IOR; i.e., slower responses at cued locations) and whether IOR depended on the relevance of the color singletons. The target display was preceded by a nonpredictive cue display. In three experiments, half of the cues were response-relevant, because participants had to perform a discrimination task at the cued location. With the exception of Experiment 2, none of the cue colors matched the target color. We observed saccadic IOR after color singletons, which was greater for slow than for fast responses. Furthermore, when the relevant cue color matched the target color, we observed attentional capture (i.e., faster responses at cued locations) with rapid responses, but IOR with slower responses, which provides evidence for attentional deallocation. When the cue display was completely response-irrelevant in two additional experiments, we did not find evidence for IOR. Instead, we found attentional capture when the cue color matched the target color. Also, attentional capture was greater for rapid responses and with short cue-target intervals. Thus, IOR emerges when cues are relevant and do not match the target color, whereas attentional capture emerges with relevant and irrelevant cues that match the target color.

Keywords Attention . Saccades . Cueing . Inhibitionofreturn


Visual foraging behavior benefits from a track record of recently inspected locations. One mechanism serving this aim is inhibition of return (IOR; Wang & Klein, 2010). IOR was first described by Posner and Cohen (1984) as the inhibition of shifting attention back to a previously inspected location. These authors observed that presenting a peripheral cue at the position of the target facilitated discrimination of the target with a brief cue- target onset asynchrony (CTOA) but hampers target discrimination with longer CTOAs. Therefore, IOR refers to better performance for targets at a different position than the cue than for targets at the same position. This result is typical of cues that are not predictive of the target's position.

Posner and Cohen (1984) speculated that the cue initially captured attention, leading to faster discrimination with a short CTOA when the cue was presented at the same position as the target than when it was presented at a different position. After some time, however, participants withdraw their attention if no relevant target is presented at the cued location. According to Posner and Cohen, the participants use some of the long CTOA to even inhibit the return of attention to the previously inspected location (therefore the name IOR). Subsequent research revealed that components besides attention capture, such as motor inhibition and sensory habituation, can also contribute to IOR (for reviews, seeKlein, 2000; Lupiàñez, 2010;Wang&Klein, 2010).

Top-down control: Contingent attentional capture

Importantly, in the present context, IOR also features prominently in one of the large debates in attention research: the question of the extent to which attention capture is top-down contingent (cf. Folk, Remington, & Johnston, 1992) versus stimulus-driven (or bottom-up; cf. Theeuwes, 1992, 2010). According to Folk et al., only cues with a relevant feature that matches the searched-for target feature capture attention. Folk et al. based their conclusion on experiments with two sorts of nonpredictive cues. They used either one colored (red) cue as a color-singleton together with three white cues, or a single abrupt-onset cue. Both cue types were presented with the same CTOA before the relevant target and did not predict the target position. Critically, in one block, the participants searched only for abrupt-onset targets, whereas in the other block, they searched only for color-defined (red) target singletons. In line with Folk et al. …

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