Active suppression of distractors that match the contents of visual working memory
The biased competition theory proposes that items matching the contents of visual working memory will automatically have an advantage in the competition for attention. However, evidence for an automatic effect has been mixed, perhaps because the memory-driven attentional bias can be
overcome by top-down suppression. To test this hypothesis, the Pd component of the event-related potential waveform was used as a marker of attentional suppression. While observers maintained a colour in working memory, task-irrelevant probe arrays were presented that contained an item matching
the colour being held in memory. We found that the memory-matching probe elicited a Pd component, indicating that it was being actively suppressed. This result suggests that sensory inputs matching the information being held in visual working memory are automatically detected and generate
an “attend-to-me” signal, but this signal can be overridden by an active suppression mechanism to prevent the actual capture of attention.