Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Fixation Not Required: Characterizing Oculomotor Attention Capture for Looming Stimuli

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Fixation Not Required: Characterizing Oculomotor Attention Capture for Looming Stimuli

Article excerpt

Published online: 26 June 2015

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract A stimulus moving toward us, such as a ball being thrown in our direction or a vehicle braking suddenly in front of ours, often represents a stimulus that requires a rapid response. Using a visual search task in which target and distractor items were systematically associated with a looming object, we explored whether this sort of looming motion captures attention, the nature of such capture using eye movement measures (overt/covert), and the extent to which such capture effects are more closely tied to motion onset or the motion itself.We replicated previous findings indicating that looming motion induces response time benefits and costs during visual search Lin, Franconeri, & Enns(Psychological Science 19(7): 686-693, 2008). These differences in response times were independent of fixation, indicating that these capture effects did not necessitate overt attentional shifts to a looming object for search benefits or costs to occur. Interestingly, we found no differences in capture benefits and costs associated with differences in looming motion type. Combined, our results suggest that capture effects associated with looming motion are more likely subserved by covert attentional mechanisms rather than overt mechanisms, and attention capture for looming motion is likely related to motion itself rather than the onset of motion.

Keywords Attentional capture * Eye movements and visual attention * Motion

On a typical day, we may be required to process rapidly and respond to environmental stimuli. For example, a sudden loud noise may indicate an alarm that requires us to evacuate from our office, or a vehicle quickly expanding in visual angle in front of us while driving might cue us to an impending collision that we must respond to in order to avoid. Stimulus properties that evoke these sorts of reflexive high-priority responses often are referred to as being capable of capturing attention. Given that moving objects in the real world often are behaviorally informative (particularly if the object is moving toward an observer), it is perhaps unsurprising that motion has been a focal point for study in the context of attentional capture effects (Folk et al., 1994; Franconeri & Simons, 2003; Hillstrom & Yantis, 1994; Ludwig, Ranson, & Gilchrist, 2008). For example, it has been found that object motion induces a search cost for invalid spatial cues when searching for a moving target (Folk et al., 1994). Additionally, looming motion associated with a target engenders faster RTs, but looming motion associated with a distractor object engenders slower RTs across differing set sizes (Lin, Franconeri, & Enns, 2008). Researchers also have demonstrated that capture does not necessarily occur uniformly for all motion (Franconeri & Simons, 2003; Lin et al., 2008). Interestingly, Franconeri and Simons (2003) have demonstrated that motion captures attention but that the effect depends on the type of motion (collision vs. noncollision trajectory). These findings are consistent with the importance that looming motion often plays in our daily lives. An item that is looming toward an individual is more likely to be something he might have to respond to, whereas an item moving away from an individual is less likely to require an immediate action.

Although ample evidence exists to support the assertion that object motion captures attention, some findings have suggested that this might not be a ubiquitous relationship. Failures to find evidence for motion-related capture effects have been attributed to overly simplistic motion instantiations (Hillstrom & Yantis, 1994; Yantis & Egeth, 1999) or to experimental confounds, such as motion continuing during target search and onsets occurring simultaneously with mask offsets (Franconeri & Simons, 2003). However, it has been argued that the absence of motion-related capture in some cases is evidence that motion itself does not capture attention. …

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