Signal Enhancement, Not Active Suppression, Follows the Contingent Capture of Visual Attention

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Irrelevant visual cues capture attention when they possess a task-relevant feature. Electrophysiologically, this contingent capture of attention is evidenced by the N2pc component of the visual event-related potential (ERP) and an enlarged ERP positivity over the occipital hemisphere contralateral to the cued location. The N2pc reflects an early stage of attentional selection, but presently it is unclear what the contralateral ERP positivity reflects. One hypothesis is that it reflects the perceptual enhancement of the cued search-array item; another hypothesis is that it is time-locked to the preceding cue display and reflects active suppression of the cue itself. Here, we varied the time interval between a cue display and a subsequent target display to evaluate these competing hypotheses. The results demonstrated that the contralateral ERP positivity is tightly time-locked to the appearance of the search display rather than the cue display, thereby supporting the perceptual enhancement hypothesis and disconfirming the cue-suppression hypothesis.

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