Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Does Semantic Preactivation Reduce Inattentional Blindness?

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Does Semantic Preactivation Reduce Inattentional Blindness?

Article excerpt

Published online: 24 December 2014

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract We are susceptible to failures of awareness if a stimulus occurs unexpectedly and our attention is focused elsewhere. Such inattentional blindness is modulated by various parameters, including stimulus attributes, the observer's cognitive resources, and the observer's attentional set regarding the primary task. In three behavioral experiments with a total of 360 participants, we investigated whether mere semantic preactivation of the color of an unexpected object can reduce inattentional blindness. Neither explicitly mentioning the color several times before the occurrence of the unexpected stimulus nor priming the color more implicitly via color-related concepts could significantly reduce the susceptibility to inattentional blindness. Even putting the specific color concept in the main focus of the primary task did not lead to reduced inattentional blindness. Thus, we have shown that the failure to consciously perceive unexpected objects was not moderated by semantic preactivation of the objects' most prominent feature: its color. We suggest that this finding reflects the rather general principle that preactivations that are not motivationally relevant for one's current selection goals do not suffice to make an unexpected object overcome the threshold of awareness.

Keywords Inattentional blindness . Awareness . Priming

Conscious perception is one of the most fundamental aspects of human experience and has long fascinated scholars from various disciplines (e.g., Dehaene & Naccache, 2001; Metzinger, 1995; Overgaard, Rote, Mouridsen, & Ramsøy, 2006). Substantial evidence indicates that a crucial precursor of awareness is attention (for a discussion, see Cohen, Cavanagh, Chun, & Nakayama, 2012;butseeMole,2008). A striking demonstration of this dependency is inattentional blindness, which refers to the phenomenon that unexpected objects that are located well within the visual field do not reach awareness when attention is focused elsewhere (Mack &Rock, 1998; Simons & Chabris, 1999).

The likelihood of inattentional blindness depends on various parameters, such as the attributes of the unexpected object (Calvillo & Jackson, 2014; Mack & Rock, 1998), cognitive capabilities (Hannon & Richards, 2010;O'Shea & Fieo, 2014; but see Bredemeier & Simons, 2012), and perhaps even personality traits (Richards, Hellgren, & French, 2014). Moreover, noticing unexpected objects depends on a person's attentional set: Unexpected objects are more likely to be perceived when they are similar to the objects that are being attended to as part of the primary task, for example, regarding their luminance, shape, or color (Koivisto & Revonsuo, 2008; Most, Scholl, Clifford, & Simons, 2005; Most et al., 2001). Crucially, an attentional set involves the specific focus on the very dimension (or selection criterion) that allows discriminating relevant from irrelevant items in the context of the currently performed primary task (Aimola Davies, Waterman, White, & Davies, 2013; Most et al., 2005). For example, when participants track black items in a dynamic visual display, they detect unexpected black objects far more frequently than unexpected white objects (Most et al., 2001; see also Simons & Chabris, 1999). This applies not only to physical features but also to the level of semantic categories: When participants look for pictures of animals, they detect an unexpected word more frequently when it is the name of an animal rather than the name of a piece of furniture (Koivisto & Revonsuo, 2007).

The beneficial effects of a matching attentional set might be an example of a more general principle of conscious perception (Dehaene, Changeux, Naccache, Sackur, & Sergent, 2006), namely that both bottom-up stimulus strength as well as top-down attentional amplification are needed for conscious perception to arise. …

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