Chisholm, J., Bischof, W. F., and Kingstone, A. (2011). The effect of providing context to distractors in visual search, 52nd Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, #3107, 160.

We investigated the potential influence of top-down control on the automatic capture of attention. Participants were required to locate a unique color target followed by a manual response. A task irrelevant abrupt onset appeared on 50% of trials simultaneously with target onset. To manipulate top-down control participants were either told that the onset was irrelevant to the task and should be actively avoided, or they were made aware of the onset as just another display item, or participants were not informed of the presence of the abrupt onset. Our instruction manipulation revealed that being asked to explicitly ignore the abrupt onset was more detrimental to performance than simply being made aware of its possible presence. These results highlight the role of top-down factors in modulating the capture of attention.

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