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Psychon Bull Rev. 2005 Aug;12(4):669-74.

The role of working memory in attentional capture.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, England.


Much previous research has demonstrated that visual search is typically disrupted by the presence of a unique "singleton" distractor in the search display. Here we show that attentional capture by an irrelevant color singleton during shape search critically depends on availability of working memory to the search task: When working memory is loaded in a concurrent yet unrelated verbal short-term memory task, capture increases. These findings converge with previous demonstrations that increasing working memory load results in greater distractor interference in Stroop-like tasks (de Fockert, Rees, Frith, & Lavie, 2001; Lavie, Hirst, de Fockert, & Viding, 2004), which support the hypothesis that working memory provides goal-directed control of visual selective attention allowing to minimize interference by goal-irrelevant distractors.

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