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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Stimulus‐driven capture and contingent capture

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Abstract Whether or not certain physical events can capture attention has been one of the most debated issues in the study of attention. This discussion is concerned with how goal‐directed and stimulus‐driven processes interact in perception and cognition. On one extreme of the spectrum is the idea that attention capture is primarily stimulus driven and automatic. On the other end is the notion that attention capture is always contingent on the goals of the observer, and thus under top‐down control. This review discusses the empirical evidence for each of these viewpoints and the theoretical consequences. In addition, there is a discussion of the issues that remain controversial within the debate between the two viewpoints. It is concluded that visual selection depends on the interaction between bottom‐up and top‐down processes with a special role for spatial attention as the top‐down gatekeeper for attention capture. WIREs Cogn Sci 2010 1 872–881 This article is categorized under: Psychology > Attention

Stimuli and data from Theeuwes.3 Observers search throughout the whole experiment for a shape singleton, a green diamond presented among a variable number of circles. Observers respond to the orientation (horizontal or vertical) of the line segment presented within the target diamond shape. On the left side: The color distractor singleton captures attention and causes a reaction time (RT) increase because the color distractor is more salient than the target singleton (the green diamond). On the right side: Finding the shape singleton is not affected by the presence of the color singleton because the color singleton is in this condition less salient than the target singleton (the green diamond). These results indicate that even though observers always search for a diamond singleton, this top‐down set cannot prevent the selection of the color singleton. Selection appears to be completely controlled by the salience of the stimuli in the visual field. This result is taken as evidence for stimulus‐driven attention capture.

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Paradigm and data from Jonides and Yantis.43 In the first display, a target letter was displayed for 1000 ms (in this case the letter P) followed by a premask display for 1000 ms. In the search display, one letter had a unique color (dotted lines). At chance level, this letter could be the target. The results show that observers do not start searching at the unique feature (panel B: unique brightness; panel C: unique color). Note that when the unique feature is an abrupt onset (panel A), observer do start searching at the unique feature (i.e., the abrupt onset), on = present‐onset; no‐on = present‐no‐onset; abs = absent; brt = present‐bright; dim = present‐dim; common = present‐common color; unique = present‐unique color.

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The contingent capture paradigm of Folk et al.14 Observers had to respond to a target singleton (either an ‘X’ or an ‘ = ’). The target was defined as singleton which had a unique color (‘color target’ condition, bottom‐right) or was the only element presented as an onset (‘onset target’ condition, top‐right). Each type of target display was preceded by a cue display. The cue display consisted of either an onset cue (top left) or a color cue (bottom‐left). All conditions were factorially combined. The important finding was that each cue type (onset color cue) only captured attention when observers were set to look for it.

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