Automatic capture of attention by flicker

Moritz Stolte, Ulrich Ansorge

Visual motion captures attention, but little is known about the automaticity of these effects. Here, we tested if deviant flicker frequencies, as one form of motion, automatically capture attention. Observers searched for a vertical target among tilted distractors. Prior to the target display, a cue array of sinusoidally modulating (flickering) annuli, each surrounding one location of the subsequent target(-plus-distractors) display was presented for variable durations. Annuli either flickered all at 1 Hz (neutral condition, no-singleton cue), or a single annulus flickered at a unique frequency of 5 Hz, 10 Hz, or 15 Hz. The location of this singleton-frequency cue was uncorrelated with target location. Thus, we could measure benefits (target at cued location) and costs (target not equal cued location) for cues of different frequencies and durations. The results showed that deviant flicker frequencies capture attention, as we observed benefits and costs, falsifying that nonspatial filtering accounted for the cueing effect. In line with automatic capture, cueing was effective in singleton (Experiment 1) and nonsingleton search tasks (Experiment 2), and is thus not dependent on ("top-down") singleton detection mode. Moreover, analysis of results ruled out trial-by-trial "swapping" of flicker frequencies from preceding target to subsequent distractor locations. Results also revealed increasing cueing effects with higher cue flicker frequency and longer duration. This indicates a significantly longer period of automatic capture by sinusoidal flicker than the typical inhibition of return observed around 250 ms after the onset of uninformative static or single-transient cues.

Department of Cognition, Emotion, and Methods in Psychology, Vienna Cognitive Science Hub, Research Platform Mediatised Lifeworlds: Young people's narrative constructions, connections and appropriations
Attention, Perception & Psychophysics
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Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
501011 Cognitive psychology
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Social Sciences(all)
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