Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Attentional Disengagement From Visually Unique and Unexpected Items at Fixation

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Abstract

Distinctive aspects of a scene can capture attention even when they are irrelevant to one's goals. The authors address whether visually unique, unexpected, but task-irrelevant features also tend to hold attention. Observers searched through displays in which the color of each item was irrelevant. At the start of search, all objects changed color. Critically, the foveated item changed to an unexpected color (it was novel), became a color singleton (it was unique), or both. Saccade latency revealed the time required to disengage overt attention from this object. Singletons resulted in longer latencies, but only if they were unexpected. Conversely, unexpected items only delayed disengagement if they were singletons. Thus, the time spent overtly attending to an object is determined, at least in part, by task-irrelevant stimulus properties, but this depends on the confluence of expectation and visual salience.

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