Attention Capture While Switching Search Strategies: Evidence for a Breakdown in Top-Down Attentional Control

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  • Whereas capture experiments typically repeat a single task many times, real world cognition is characterized by frequent switching. Lien, Ruthruff, and Johnston (2010) reported that the attentional control system can rapidly and fully switch between different search settings (e.g., red to green), with no carryover and no inter-trial priming. The present study examined whether this impressive flexibility is possible even when the switch is not between different features along the same dimension, but between mutually incompatible search modes. On each trial, participants were prompted to find and identify the letter that was in a specific color (feature search mode) or was uniquely colored (singleton search mode). Within each block, search mode was either pure or mixed; the mixed blocks contained a fixed AABB search sequence (singleton-singleton-feature- feature) in Experiment 1 and a random sequence in Experiment 2. The target display was preceded by a non-informative cue display containing a non-target color singleton. In pure feature search blocks, these irrelevant singleton cues were generally unable to capture attention, replicating previous findings of “contingent capture.” In mixed blocks, however, irrelevant color singletons captured attention on feature search trials. This breakdown indicates a limitation in the sharpness of attentional control following mode switches, which might be common in the real world.
  • Keywords: Cognitive Control and Switching, Visual Search Strategy, Attention Capture
  • Keywords: Cognitive Control and Switching, Visual Search Strategy, Attention Capture
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  • Lien, M. C., Ruthruff, E., & Naylor, J. (2014). Attention capture while switching search strategies: Evidence for a breakdown in top-down attentional control. Visual Cognition, 22(8), 1105-1133. doi:10.1080/13506285.2014.962649
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  • 22
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  • 8
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Peer Reviewed



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