Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

An Attentional-Adaptation Account of Spatial Negative Priming: Evidence from Event-Related Potentials

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

An Attentional-Adaptation Account of Spatial Negative Priming: Evidence from Event-Related Potentials

Article excerpt

Abstract Negative priming (NP) refers to a slower response to a target stimulus if it has been previously ignored. To examine theoretical accounts of spatial NP, we recorded behavioral measures and event-related potentials (ERPs) in a target localization task. A target and distractor briefly appeared, and the participant pressed a key corresponding to the target's location. The probability of the distractor appearing in each of four locations varied, whereas the target appeared with equal probabilities in all locations. We found that response times (RTs) were fastest when the prime distractor appeared in its most probable (frequent) location and when the prime target appeared in the location that never contained a distractor. Moreover, NP effects varied as a function of location: They were smallest when targets followed distractors in the frequent distractor location-a finding not predicted by episodic-retrieval or suppression accounts of NP. The ERP results showed that the P2, an ERP component associated with attentional orientation, was smaller in prime displays when the distractor appeared in its frequent location. Moreover, no differences were apparent between negativeprime and control trials in the N2, which is associated with suppression processes, nor in the P3, which is associated with episodic retrieval processes. These results indicate that the spatial NP effect is caused by both short- and long-term adaptation in preferences based on the history of inspecting unsuccessful locations. This article is dedicated to the memory of Edward E. Smith, and we indicate how this study was inspired by his research career.

Keywords Negative priming . Attentional adaptation . ERPs .P2 .N2 . P3

For this article, we used event-related potentials (ERP) to addressanissuerelatedtocognitive control: Specifically, how implicitly varied base rates of information in the environment affect covert shifts of attention in a spatial localization task. The work builds on previous research for which the primary dependent measure was response times (RT; Reder, Weber, Shang, & Vanyukov, 2003). The third author's first and most influential advisor, Ed Smith, was a leader in using RT (Smith, 1968), and he had a keen interest in how the human mind selectively processes rapidly presented information. That work on selective attention (Smith, Haviland, Reder, Brownell, & Adams, 1976) was just one of Smith's many research projects addressing cognitive control and selective attention. He remained interested in attention throughout his career, and frequently returned to the question of how do humans come to focus on some features of a stimulus and to ignore others (e.g., Polk, Drake, Jonides, Smith, & Smith, 2008).

One of Smith's many strengths was his tendency to use converging measures to address questions of interest. He did not shy away from challenging existing interpretations and theories and excelled at finding alternative explanations for data sets. He was an early adopter of new methodologies, RT being hisfirstforayintonewmethods,andneuroimagingbeingone of his last. This article is written in the spirit of Ed Smith's approach to science: In it, we attempt to discriminate among multiple theories related to the allocation of attention in a spatial localization task, which can be construed as challenging current theories. The arguments rely on different methodologies, the first being the methodology that Ed Smith promoted when he was a young academic (RT), and the other being of the class of neuroimaging methods that Ed promoted later in life.

The paradigm that we used to explore theories of selective attention in a spatial localization task involves presenting targets and distractors in an array simultaneously, after which participants must press a key to indicate the location of the target. Performance is degraded when the target is in a position that contained a distractor on the previous display. A number of competing theories have attempted to explain this negative-priming (NP) effect. …

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