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Attentional guidance in singleton search: An examination of top-down, bottom-up, and intertrial factors

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While it is clear that the goals of an observer change behaviour, their role in the guidance of visual attention has been much debated. In particular, there has been controversy over whether top-down knowledge can influence attentional guidance in search for a singleton item that is already salient by a bottom-up account (Theeuwes, Reimann, & Mortier, 2006). One suggestion is that passive intertrial priming accounts for what has been called top-down guidance (e.g., Maljkovic & Nakayama, 1994). In the present study, participants responded to the shape of a singleton target among homogenous distractors in a trial-by-trial cueing design. We examined the influence of target expectancy, trial history, and target salience (which was manipulated by changing the number of distractors). Top-down influence resulted in fast RTs that were independent of display size, even on trials that received no priming. Our findings show there is a role for top-down guidance, even in singleton search. The designation of intertrial priming as a bottom-up factor, rather than an implicit top-down factor (Wolfe, Butcher, Lee, & Hyle, 2003), is also discussed.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Psychological & Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA

Publication date: December 1, 2007


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