The power of negative thinking: Paradoxical but effective ignoring of salient-but-irrelevant stimuli with a spatial cue

Seah Chang, Corbin A. Cunningham, Howard E. Egeth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

A uniquely coloured singleton among other uniformly coloured stimuli can function as a powerful attractor of attention. However, top-down attentional mechanisms are also powerful, and there are circumstances in which they can suppress irrelevant distractors. The current study tested whether an endogenous spatial cue indicating the location of a salient colour singleton distractor can eliminate involuntary attentional allocation to such a stimulus. When an arrow cue indicated a to-be-ignored location that would never contain a target but would contain a colour singleton distractor, a significant singleton capture effect was eliminated on ignore trials regardless of the consistency of the singleton colour in Experiments 1 and 2. In Experiment 3, a consistent colour singleton was used without a spatial cue. Participants were not able to suppress singleton distractors in the absence of a cue. However, in Experiments 1 & 2, the status of a letter inscribed in the singleton (i.e., whether it is compatible or incompatible with the target of the search) did affect reaction time on ignore trials. If the compatibility effect indicates a shift of attention to the singleton, the data may mean that, with a spatial cue, participants inhibit a cued location by first selecting the location and then rapidly disengaging from it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-213
Number of pages15
JournalVisual Cognition
Volume27
Issue number3-4
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

Keywords

  • Attention
  • ignoring
  • spatial cue
  • suppression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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