Whatever You Do, Don’t Look at the . . .: Evaluating Guidance by an Exclusionary Attentional Template

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People can use a target template consisting of one or more features to guide attention and gaze to matching objects in a search array. But can we also use feature information to guide attention away from known irrelevant items? Some studies found a benefit from foreknowledge of a distractor feature, whereas others found a cost. Importantly, previous work has largely relied on end-of-trial manual responses; it is unclear how feature-guided avoidance might unfold as candidate objects are inspected. In the current experiments, participants were cued with a distractor feature to avoid, then performed a visual search task while eye movements were recorded. Participants initially fixated a to-be-avoided object more frequently than predicted by chance, but they also demonstrated avoidance of cue-matching objects later in the trial. When provided more time between cue stimulus and search array, participants continued to be initially captured by a cued-color item. Furthermore, avoidance of cue-matching objects later in the trial was not contingent on initial capture by a cue-matching object. These results suggest that the conflicting findings in previous negative-cue experiments may be explained by a mixture of two independent processes: initial attentional capture by memory-matching items and later avoidance of known irrelevant items.

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