Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

The Role of Flicker and Abrupt Displacement in Attention Capture by Motion Onsets

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

The Role of Flicker and Abrupt Displacement in Attention Capture by Motion Onsets

Article excerpt

Published online: 22 November 2013

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Sunny and von Mühlenen (Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18, 1050-1056, 2011) showed that an onset of motion captured attention only when the motion was jerky (refreshed at 8 or 17 Hz), but not when it was smooth (33 or 100 Hz). However, it remained unclear why the onset of jerky motion captures attention. In the present study, we systematically tested the role of different aspects of jerky motion in capturing attention. Simple flicker without motion did not capture attention in the same way as jerky motion (Exp. 1). An abrupt displacement between 0.26° and 1.05° captured attention, irrespective of whether the stimulus subsequently continued to move smoothly (Exp. 2) or whether it remained stationary (Exps. 3 and 4). A displaced stimulus that was preceded briefly at the new location by a figure-8 placeholder did not capture attention (Exp. 5). These results are explained within a masking account, according to which abrupt onsets and abrupt displacements receive a processing advantage because they escape forward masking by the preceding figure-8 placeholders.

Keywords Attention . Attentional capture . Visual masking . Motion perception

The debate regarding the ability of motion to capture attention is more than a decade old. Although most of the studies seem to have concluded that motion per se does not capture attention, the evidence is less conclusive for the onset of motion (Abrams & Christ, 2003; Franconeri & Simons, 2003, 2005; Ludwig, Ranson, & Gilchrist, 2008; Sunny & von Mühlenen, 2011; von Mühlenen, Rempel, & Enns, 2005). For example, Abrams and colleagues (Abrams & Christ, 2003, 2005;Christ &Abrams,2008; Christ, Castel, & Abrams, 2008)showed that an object that started moving (motion onset) was automatically prioritized over an object that remained stationary (static), moved continuously (continuous motion), or stopped moving (motion offset). They argued from an evolutionary perspective that the onset of motion is important because it could aid the fast and reflexive detection of prey or predators. In their motion onset account , they argued that capture occurs because of a change in the status of an object at a higher-level representation from stationary to moving, rather than because of a low-level change signaling the motion onset (Abrams & Christ, 2006). Further evidence for this view has come from Franconeri and Simons (2005), who showed that motion onset captured attention even when the actual physical onset of motion was not perceived (i.e., when it occurred during a saccade).

Contradictory to this position, von Mühlenen et al. (2005) argued that low-level changes are crucial for attention capture. They showed that any change, such as motion onsets or color changes, can capture attention when it is temporally uniquethat is, when it occurs during a time when nothing else is happening in the display. They also showed that the same change failed to capture attention when it occurred simultaneously with a display transition (i.e., when the placeholders changed to letters).1 According to their unique-event account , the change then ceased to capture attention because it was attenuated by the other changes occurring during display transition. However, the findings that capture depends on the timing of events was in disagreement with Abrams and Christ (2003, 2005), who found capture even when motion began during a display transition.

Recently, Sunny and von Mühlenen (2011) offered a resolution for this apparent discrepancy between the motion onset account and the unique-event account, pointing to the refresh rate of motion as the critical difference between the two studies. They noticed that Abrams and Christ used a relatively low refresh rate of 15 Hz, giving the impression of rather jerky motion, whereas von Mühlenen et al. (2005) had used a refresh rate of 75 Hz, giving the impression of smooth motion. …

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