An Electrophysiological Study of Attention Capture by Salience: Does Rarity Enable Capture? Public Deposited

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  • Several behavioral studies have suggested that rarity is critical for enabling irrelevant, salient objects to capture attention. We tested this hypothesis using the N2pc, thought to reflect attentional allocation. A cue display was followed by a target display in which participants identified the letter in a specific color. Experiment 1 pitted rare, irrelevant abrupt onset cues (appearing on only 20% of trials) against target-relevant color cues. The relevant color cue produced large N2pc and cue validity effects, even when competing with a rare, salient, simultaneous abrupt onset. Similar results occurred even when abrupt onset frequency was reduced to only 10% of trials (Experiment 2). Experiment 3 examined rare, irrelevant color singleton cues (20% of trials). Despite being rare and salient, these singleton cues produced no N2pc or cue validity effect, indicating little attentional capture. Experiment 4 greatly increased color cue salience by adding 4 background boxes, increasing color contrast, and tripling the cue display duration (from 50 to 150 ms). Small cue validity and N2pc effects were obtained, but did not strongly depend on degree of rarity (20% vs. 100%). We argue that rarity by itself is neither necessary nor sufficient to produce attention capture.
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  • Noesen, B., Lien, M. C., & Ruthruff, E. (2014). An electrophysiological study of attention capture by salience: Does rarity enable capture?. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 26(3), 346-371. doi:10.1080/20445911.2014.892112
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