Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

The Attentional Boost Effect Really Is a Boost: Evidence from a New Baseline

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

The Attentional Boost Effect Really Is a Boost: Evidence from a New Baseline

Article excerpt

Published online: 8 May 2014

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract In the attentional boost effect, participants encode images into memory as they perform an unrelated target-detection task. Later memory is better for images that coincided with a target rather than a distractor. This advantage could reflect a broad processing enhancement triggered by target detection, but it could also reflect inhibitory processes triggered by distractor rejection. To test these possibilities, in four experiments we acquired a baseline measure of image memory when neither a target nor a distractor was presented. Participants memorized faces presented in a continuous series (500- or 100-ms duration). At the same time, participants monitored a stream of squares. Some faces appeared on their own, and others coincided with squares in either a target or a nontarget color. Because the processes associated with both target detection and distractor rejection were minimized when faces appeared on their own, this condition served as a baseline measure of face encoding. The data showed that long-term memory for faces coinciding with a target square was enhanced relative to faces in both the baseline and distractor conditions. We concluded that detecting a behaviorally relevant event boosts memory for concurrently presented images in dual-task situations.

Keywords Attention . Dual-task processing . Attentional boost effect

Some events are more important for behavior than others. For example, when waiting for coffee at a cafe, hearing the barista call out one's own name requires a response, whereas hearing someone else's name does not. A consequence of variability in the relevance of events is variability in attention over time: Events that require a response demand more attention than those that do not (Duncan, 1980). Because attention is limited in capacity (Kinchla, 1992), increasing attention to one stim- ulus (such as the goal-relevant item) should reduce the pro- cessing of concurrent information. However, recent studies have challenged this conclusion, suggesting that the selection of relevant stimuli in time may enhance, rather than impair, the ability to process concurrently presented stimuli (Lin, Pype, Murray, & Boynton, 2010;Swallow&Jiang,2010), a phe- nomenon termed the attentional boost effect.

In the attentional boost effect, participants press a button whenever a prespecified target (e.g., a blue square) appears in a stream of distractors (e.g., squares of different colors). At the same time they memorize a series of briefly presented back- ground images (typically presented at a rate of 500 ms/item). Subsequent long-term memory for images encoded with tar- gets is superior to memory for images encoded with distractors. The term "attentional boost effect" implies that the effect reflects a processing enhancement. Indeed, it has been argued that the selection of behaviorally relevant events in time produces brief, but broad, enhancements in perceptual processing, thereby facilitating the processing of the target and concurrent, but unrelated, background images (Swallow & Jiang, 2012). Consistent with this account, images presented at the same time as an unrelated target are remembered better than images presented before or after the target, ruling out standard attentional-cueing and alerting effects as likely sources (Swallow & Jiang, 2011). However, the attentional boost effect is a relative, rather than an absolute, memory advantage. As a result, it could reflect processes that are triggered either by target detection or by distractor rejection.

Without an appropriate baseline, however, there is no way to disambiguate whether the attentional boost effect reflects enhancements due to target detection or inhibitory processes associated with distractor rejection. Both possibilities are compatible with known attentional mechanisms. Selection enhances the processing of relevant items, allowing them to be more deeply processed and to influence behavior (Driver, 2001). …

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