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Modulation of oculomotor capture by abrupt onsets during attentionally demanding visual search

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The influence of abrupt onsets on attentionally demanding visual search (i.e., search for a letter target among heterogeneous letter distractors), as indexed by performance and eye movement measures, was investigated in a series of studies. In Experiments 1 and 2 we examined whether onsets would capture the eyes when the appearance of an onset predicted neither the location nor the identity of the target. Subjects did direct their eyes to the abrupt onsets on a disproportionate number of trials in these studies. Interestingly, however, onset capture was modulated by subjects' scan strategies. Furthermore, onsets captured the eyes less frequently than would have been predicted by paradigms showing attentional capture when no eye movements are required. Experiment 3 examined the question of whether onsets would capture the eyes in a situation in which they never served as the target. Capture was observed in this study. However, the magnitude of capture effects was substantially diminished as compared to previous behavioural studies in which the onset had a chance probability of serving as the target. These data are discussed in terms of the influence of top-down constraints on stimulus-driven attentional and oculomotor capture by abrupt onset stimuli.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: August 1, 2002


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