Distinguishing Among Potential Mechanisms of Singleton Suppression

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Abstract

Previous research has revealed that people can suppress salient stimuli that might otherwise capture visual attention. The present study tests between 3 possible mechanisms of visual suppression. According to first-order feature suppression models, items are suppressed on the basis of simple feature values. According to second-order feature suppression models, items are suppressed on the basis of local discontinuities within a given feature dimension. According to global-salience suppression models, items are suppressed on the basis of their dimension-independent salience levels. The current study distinguished among these models by varying the predictability of the singleton color value. If items are suppressed by virtue of salience alone, then it should not matter whether the singleton color is predictable. However, evidence from probe processing and eye movements indicated that suppression is possible only when the color values are predictable. Moreover, the ability to suppress salient items developed gradually as participants gained experience with the feature that defined the salient distractor. These results are consistent with first-order feature suppression models, and are inconsistent with the other models of suppression. In other words, people primarily suppress salient distractors on the basis of their simple features and not on the basis of salience per se.

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