When, Why and How Do Attentional Control Settings Influence Reflexive Capture? Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Ford, Cassie
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Most models of selective attention acknowledge the role of both goal-driven and saliency-driven factors (Itti & Koch, 2001). An important ongoing debate asks when and to what extent top-down task settings prevent distraction by salient but irrelevant stimuli. Some studies suggest that reflexive orienting of spatial attention occurs only when distractors are congruent with task-relevant properties of the target (Folk, Remington, & Johnston, 1992); while others argue that the initial capture of attention is entirely stimulus-driven (Theeuwes, 1991). The present study tested whether attentional control settings always mediate capture, whether capture changes over time, and whether individual differences predict attentional capture. The first set of experiments tested whether a non-predictive and non-congruent cue captures attention when subjects are required to make a "target-absent" button-press response on catch trials. Results indicated reflexive spatial attentional capture to the distractor’s location, even when the stimulus shared no critical features with the target, but only when a behavioral response to catch trials was required. These findings provide new evidence that the ability of a stimulus to capture attention goes beyond the contingency of congruency between cue and target, and demonstrate that top-down set mediates capture through suppression, which is disabled when participants must attend to the temporal order of events. A second set of experiments extended these results with evidence that the novel capture found in the first experiment diminished over time as a function of experience with the task; whereas capture in the classic contingent case remained present throughout the experiment, suggesting that capture was initially stimulus-driven in both cases, followed by top-down suppression of irrelevant stimuli. Results from a third experiment demonstrated capture to a congruent cue despite its low validity (16%), supporting the contingent capture hypothesis. However, we also found evidence that experience with the cue’s probability may have induced more efficient disengagement over time, suggesting another way in which attentional control settings may be disabled. Overall these studies contribute to our understanding of the complex influences of internal and external factors on attentional capture, as well as the ways in which we can study them both experimentally and analytically.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Hopfinger, Joseph
  • Hollins, Mark
  • Sheridan, Margaret
  • Mulligan, Neil
  • Bauer, Daniel
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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