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Atten Percept Psychophys. 2011 Oct;73(7):2092-103. doi: 10.3758/s13414-011-0176-9.

On the limits of top-down control of visual selection.

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Department of Cognitive Psychology, Vrije Universiteit, Van der Boechorststraat 1, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


In the present study, observers viewed displays in which two equally salient color singletons were simultaneously present. Before each trial, observers received a word cue (e.g., the word red, or green) or a symbolic cue (a circle colored red or green) telling them which color singleton to select on the upcoming trial. Even though many theories of visual search predict that observers should be able to selectively attend the target color singleton, the results of the present study show that observers could not select the target singleton without interference from the irrelevant color singleton. The results indicate that the irrelevant color singleton captured attention. Only when the color of the target singleton remained the same from one trial to the next was selection perfect--an effect that is thought to be the result of passive automatic intertrial priming. The results of the present study demonstrate the limits of top-down attentional control.

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