Isolating involuntary attention hold: a study of distraction Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 20, 2019
  • Parks, Emily Leonard
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Distraction occurs when voluntary focus is disrupted by bottom-up influences on attention and must be reoriented back to task-relevant goals. Human neuroimaging studies suggest that the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) plays a critical role in the reorienting of attention following distraction. However, the neural processes by which distraction affects perception and subsequent actions are unclear. Here, we investigated the neural mechanisms of distraction when attention is differentially captured by a distracting stimulus; specifically, when attention is involuntarily oriented to versus held on a task-irrelevant item. First, we conducted two behavioral studies (Experiments 1 & 2) to determine experimental conditions that held attention, versus those that simply oriented attention. We provided novel results that neutral faces involuntarily hold attention a greater extent than places, increasing distraction. Using fMRI, we then examined differences in neural activity between these conditions to investigate the neural correlates of involuntary orienting and hold (Experiment 3). Lastly, we explored whether attentional hold effects would manifest in a traditional spatial cuing paradigm (Experiments 4a & 4b). fMRI analyses revealed a hemispheric asymmetry in the brain regions involved in the reorienting of attention. Activity in the right TPJ was enhanced for distractors that oriented and held attention, as compared to distractors that only oriented attention. Further, these same distractors produced activation in the left TPJ, while distractors that merely oriented attention did not. These novel results might add to previous studies of reorienting in which TPJ activation was limited to the right hemisphere. We suggest that in these prior studies, attention was oriented to distractors, but may not have been held to the extent required to elicit left TPJ activation. The absence of hold may have led to the right-dominant activity observed. Further, using a traditional cuing paradigm, we found no evidence of extended hold, suggesting that the hold demonstrated in Experiments 1-3 did not reflect delays at early perceptual processing stages. Overall, involuntary orienting and hold were associated with different neural signatures, providing novel evidence that these two processes reflect partially distinct mechanisms.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • "... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Psychology."
  • Hopfinger, Joseph
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

This work has no parents.