Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Attentional Capture by Dynamic Cues

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Attentional Capture by Dynamic Cues

Article excerpt

Published online: 10 September 2014

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Attention orients to an object that abruptly onsets, because the object's appearance alters the visual scene. In this report, the question was whether there would, similarly, be attentional prioritization of an existing object that changes its dynamic status. Attention may be deployed immediately to the object because its new dynamic status, potentially, also could alter the visual environment. This report focused on the capture capacity of an object-made up of four spots-that abruptly began rotating, thereby endowing it with two dynamic features: motion-onset, apparent when the object transitioned from stationary to moving, and its specificmotion trajectory. Because the rotating spots were irrelevant to the main letter-identification task, there ought not to be top-down attentional orienting to them. We asked two questions: (a) whether the rotating object captures attention automatically, and (b) whether both its dynamic features contribute to attentional capture. Four experiments were reported. The observer's attentional set was manipulated by varying, across experiments, the target's diagnostic feature. We examined how the different attentional sets modulated capture. The results showed that the rotating object only succeeded in capturing attention when the attentional system was set to monitor dynamic features.

Keywords Attention . Selective . Attentional capture

Because the visual environment generally contains information that exceeds our processing capacity, the perceptual system responds to this information overload by attending selectively to those aspects that abet the achievement of immediate goals. Themultiple goals,which cannot be attained in parallel, need to be achieved sequentially. To fulfill this, an attentional prioritization queue is set up to guide processing of the visual scene (Yantis & Jones, 1991). The theoretical question emerging from this general view is whether attentional selection is determined implacably in this top-down manner, or whether attentional control from the top can be bypassed sometimes.

Reliable data support the view that an onset stimulus attracts attention in a bottom-up manner. What remains unsettled is explaining the mechanisms underlying onset capture (Yantis, 2000). One hypothesis attributes the involuntary orienting to the luminance transients, triggered when an object appears suddenly. For example, an onset stimulus' initial neuronal discharge has been shown to be distinctive and informationally rich (Müller, Metha, Krauskopf, & Lennie, 2001). Therefore, one might expect that as luminance transients accompany other dynamic stimuli, they, too, should capture attention. Franconeri, Hollingworth, & Simons (2005) pursued this argument and showed that obscuring the transients eliminated capture altogether (Davoli, Suszko, & Abrams, 2007, for an alternative interpretation).

The view of Franconeri et al. (2005) contradicts the conclusion of Yantis and colleagues, who demonstrated that luminance transients did not play a critical role in onset capture (Hillstrom & Yantis, 1994; Yantis & Egeth, 1999, Experiment 5; and Gellatly, Cole, & Blurton, 1999, for supporting evidence). The interpretation of Yantis and his colleagues is that the onset stimulus's novelty explains its capture success. An object that appears suddenly adds new information to the visual scene. There is attentional prioritization of the new object as the perceptual system is compelled to discover immediately the new object's aspects. The question is whether an object that changes its dynamic status would, similarly, capture attention. The change in an object's status also alters the visual scene and this could compel attention to be immediately deployed to the object. However, there is a crucial difference between an abrupt onset and an existing object's abrupt motion. The latter's dynamic status may be new, but the object itself is old as the perceptual systemis likely to have already encoded its aspects. …

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