Attentional repulsion effect despite a colour-based control set
A salient distractor can have a twofold effect on concurrent visual processes; it can both reduce the processing efficiency of the relevant target (e.g., increasing response time) and distort the spatial representation of the display (e.g., misperception of a target location). Previous
work has shown that knowledge of the key feature of visual targets can eliminate the effect of salient distractors on processing efficiency. For instance, knowing that the target of interest is red (i.e., having an attentional control set for red) can eliminate the cost of green distractors
on the speed of response to the target. The present study shows that the second mark of irrelevant salient distractors, i.e., distortions in spatial representation, is resistant to such top-down control. Using the attentional repulsion effect, we examined the influence of salient distractors
on target localization. Observers had a colour-based control set and the distractors either matched or mismatched with the control set. In the first two experiments, we found systematic mislocalization of targets away from the peripheral distractors (i.e., an attentional repulsion effect).
Critically, the effect was caused by distractors that both matched and mismatched the control set. A third experiment, using the same stimuli, found that processing efficiency was perfectly resistant to distractors that did not match the control set, consistent with previous work. Together,
the present findings suggest that although top-down control can eliminate the cost of a salient distractor on processing efficiency, it does so without eliminating the distractor's influence on the spatial representation of the display.