Attentional capture by entirely irrelevant distractors

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Forster, Sophie ; Lavie, Nilli (2008)

Studies of attentional capture often question whether an irrelevant distractor will capture attention or be successfully ignored (e.g., Folk & Remington, 1998). Here we establish a new measure of attentional capture by distractors that are entirely irrelevant to the task in terms of visual appearance, meaning, and location (colourful cartoon figures presented in the periphery while subjects perform a central letter-search task). The presence of such a distractor significantly increased search RTs, suggesting it captured attention despite its task-irrelevance. Such attentional capture was found regardless of whether the search target was a singleton or not, and for both frequent and infrequent distractors, as well as for meaningful and meaningless distractor stimuli, although the cost was greater for infrequent and meaningful distractors. These results establish stimulus-driven capture by entirely irrelevant distractors and thus provide a demonstration of attentional capture that is more akin to distraction by irrelevant stimuli in daily life.
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