Contingent Attentional Capture by Top-Down Control Settings: Converging Evidence From Event-Related Potentials

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Theories of attentional control are divided over whether the capture of spatial attention depends primarily on stimulus salience or is contingent on attentional control settings induced by task demands. The authors addressed this issue using the N2–posterior–contralateral (N2pc) effect, a component of the event-related brain potential thought to reflect attentional allocation. They presented a cue display followed by a target display of 4 letters. Each display contained a green item and a red item. Some participants responded to the red letter and others to the green letter. Converging lines of evidence indicated that attention was captured by the cues with the same color as the target. First, these target-color cues produced a cuing validity effect on behavioral measures. Second, distractors appearing in the cued location produced larger compatibility effects. Third, the target-color cue produced a robust N2pc effect, similar in magnitude to the N2pc effect to the target itself. Furthermore, the target-color cue elicited a similar N2pc effect regardless of whether it competed with a simultaneous abrupt onset. The findings provide converging evidence for attentional capture contingent on top-down control settings.

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