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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2007 Aug;33(4):816-28.

Does contextual cuing guide the deployment of attention?

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Department of Psychology, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom.


Contextual cuing experiments show that when displays are repeated, reaction times to find a target decrease over time even when observers are not aware of the repetition. It has been thought that the context of the display guides attention to the target. The authors tested this hypothesis by comparing the effects of guidance in a standard search task with the effects of contextual cuing. First, in standard search, an improvement in guidance causes search slopes (derived from Reaction Time x Set Size functions) to decrease. In contrast, the authors found that search slopes in contextual cuing did not become more efficient over time (Experiment 1). Second, when guidance was optimal (e.g., in easy feature search), they still found a small but reliable contextual cuing effect (Experiments 2a and 2b), suggesting that other factors, such as response selection, contribute to the effect. Experiment 3 supported this hypothesis by showing that the contextual cuing effect disappeared when the authors added interference to the response selection process. Overall, the data suggest that the relationship between guidance and contextual cuing is weak and that response selection can account for part of the effect.

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