Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Oculomotor Capture by New and Unannounced Color Singletons during Visual Search

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Oculomotor Capture by New and Unannounced Color Singletons during Visual Search

Article excerpt

Published online: 2 April 2015

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract The surprise capture hypothesis states that a stimulus will capture attention to the extent that it is preattentively available and deviates from task-expectancies. Interestingly, it has been noted by Horstmann (Psychological Science 13: 499-505. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00488, 2002, Human Perception and Performance 31: 1039-1060. doi:10.1037/00961523.31.5.1039, 2005, Psychological Research, 70, 13-25, 2006) that the time course of capture by such classes of stimuli appears distinct from that of capture by expected stimuli. Specifically, attention shifts to an unexpected stimulus are delayed relative to an expected stimulus (delayed onset account). Across two experiments, we investigated this claim under conditions of unguided (Exp. 1) and guided (Exp. 2) search using eye-movements as the primary index of attentional selection. In both experiments, we found strong evidence of surprise capture for the first presentation of an unannounced color singleton. However, in both experiments the pattern of eye-movements was not consistent with a delayed onset account of attention capture. Rather, we observed costs associated with the unexpected stimulus only once the target had been selected. We propose an interference account of surprise capture to explain our data and argue that this account also can explain existing patterns of data in the literature.

Keywords Selective attention . Attentional capture . Eye movements . Visual attention

As we peer out at the world, a surplus of visual input hits the retina and feeds through to early visual areas, yet much of this information fails to reach our conscious awareness. This is the result of a cognitive system that is severely capacity-limited and can process only a subset of the visual input from a given scene at any one point in time. To compensate, mechanisms of selective attention allow us to prioritise the processing of a restricted number of events or objects in the visual world. Consequently, our conscious experience of the world is constructed primarily of visual input originating from information to which we have attended. How these selection mechanisms are controlled and the criteria by which (visual) input is selected for further processing versus input that is Bdiscarded^ earlier in the processing hierarchy has important consequences for how we interact with our environment. The decision of whether to attend to information that is relevant to our immediate goals or to prioritise signals that might be unexpected and signal a threat is one we often face. Thus, understanding what determines the events in the visual world to which we orient and attend has been a question of principal interest and importance to researchers in the field of cognitive psychology for decades.

Models of attentional guidance distinguish between two forms of attentional control: endogenous control, which is the ability to voluntarily allocate cognitive resources to processing task-relevant information, and exogenous control, which directs attention involuntarily towards signals of potential importance-but not necessarily task-relevance-in the environment (Jonides & Yantis, 1988;Posner,1980; Remington, Johnston, & Yantis, 1992;Theeuwes,1991; Yantis & Jonides, 1984). Understanding the stimulus conditions to which the exogenous attentional system is sensitive has been a topic of much debate. Specifically, research has focused on understanding the extent to which exogenous shifts of attention are governed by bottom-up factors, namely stimulus saliency versus the extent to which they are modulated by top-down processes. Proponents of bottom-up models of attentional guidance argue that the exogenous attentional system responds automatically to salient stimuli irrespective of top-down input. Under these models, modulation of attention by top-down processes is thought to occur late in processing, only after attention has initially been deployed towards the stimulus with the highest saliency value (Bde-allocation hypothesis^; see Belopolsky, Schreij & Theeuwes, 2010; van Zoest, Donk, & Theeuwes, 2004). …

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