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Vis cogn. 2011 Jan 1;19(4):417-444.

Set-specific capture can be reduced by preemptively occupying a limited-capacity focus of attention.

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Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511.


Recent work has shown that contingent attentional capture effects can be especially large when multiple attentional sets for color guide visual search (Moore & Weissman, 2010). In particular, this research suggests that detecting a target-colored (e.g., orange) distractor leads the corresponding attentional set (e.g., identify orange letters) to enter a limited-capacity focus of attention in working memory, where it remains briefly while the distractor is being attended. Consequently, the ability to identify a differently-colored (e.g., green) target 100-300 ms later is impaired because the appropriate set (e.g., identify green letters) cannot also enter the focus of attention. In two experiments, we investigated whether such set-specific capture can be reduced by preemptively occupying the focus of attention. As predicted, a target-colored central distractor presented 233 ms before a target-colored peripheral distractor eliminated set-specific capture arising from the peripheral distractor. Moreover, this effect was observed only when the central distractor's color (e.g., orange) (a) matched a different set than the upcoming peripheral distractor's color (e.g., green) and (b) matched the same set as the upcoming central target's color (e.g., orange). We conclude that the same working memory limitations that give rise to set-specific capture can be preemptively exploited to reduce it.

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