Trial-by-trial adjustments of top-down set modulate oculomotor capture

Jeff Moher, Jared Abrams, Howard E. Egeth, Steven Yantis, Veit Stuphorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The role of top-down control in visual search has been a subject of much debate. Recent research has focused on whether attentional and oculomotor capture by irrelevant salient distractors can be modulated through top-down control, and if so, whether top-down control can be rapidly initiated based on current task goals. In the present study, participants searched for a unique shape in an array containing otherwise homogeneous shapes. A cue prior to each trial indicated the probability that an irrelevant color singleton distractor would appear on that trial. Initial saccades were less likely to land on the target and participants took longer to initiate a saccade to the target when a color distractor was present than when it was absent; this cost was greatly reduced on trials in which the probability that a distractor would appear was high, as compared to when the probability was low. These results suggest that top-down control can modulate oculomotor capture in visual search, even in a singleton search task in which distractors are known to readily capture both attention and the eyes. Furthermore, the results show that top-down distractor suppression mechanisms can be initiated quickly in anticipation of irrelevant salient distractors and can be adjusted on a trial-by-trial basis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)897-903
Number of pages7
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • Automaticity
  • Cognitive control
  • Oculomotor capture
  • Precuing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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