Can salient stimuli really be suppressed?

Seah Chang, Howard E. Egeth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Although it is often assumed that a physically salient stimulus automatically captures attention even when it is irrelevant to a current task, the signal-suppression hypothesis proposes that observers can actively suppress a salient-but-irrelevant distractor. However, it is still unknown whether suppression alone (i.e., without target enhancement) is potent enough to override attentional capture by a salient singleton in an otherwise-homogeneous background. The current study addressed this issue. On search trials (70% of trials), participants searched for a shape target on trials that either did or did not contain an irrelevant color singleton. The effects of learning to suppress the color of the singleton were examined on interleaved probe trials (30% of trials). On these trials, participants searched for a probe target letter; those letters were presented on four ovals (one colored oval and three gray ovals). Each colored oval was a singleton that was one of three types: the color of the distractor on search trials, the color of the target on search trials, or a neutral color that had not appeared on search trials. Responses were faster for the probe target on a neutral-colored or target-colored item than on a gray-colored item; however, responses were slower for the probe target on a distractor-colored item than on a gray-colored item. The results demonstrate a powerful suppression mechanism overriding attentional capture by a singleton item.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)260-269
Number of pages10
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Attention
  • Attentional capture
  • Visual search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language


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