How robust and rapid can the memory-driven attentional capture be?

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Current Psychology
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Huang Y.
Zuo K.
Asthana M.K.
Comfort W.E.
Xu Z.
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© 2019, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.Previous research has indicated that visual attention can be automatically captured by sensory inputs that match the contents of visual working memory. Furthermore, the information in visual working memory can be used as a template of memory guidance for either the selection or rejection of visual attention. The current study investigated the memory-driven attentional processes in four experiments which extend and complement previous research. Participants performed a visual search task while maintaining items in visual working memory. Experiment 1 used an arrow as a pre-cue indicating which side of the screen the search target would appear on. Experiment 2 used two circles as pre-cues for the right-up/down location of the search target. Experiment 3 presented a memory-matching distractor for 300 ms followed by a blank screen. Experiment 4 presented a memory-matching distractor for 150 ms followed by the visual search task. All experiments resulted in significantly slower visual search reaction times (RTs) for the invalid condition (memory-matching distractor) compared to the neutral condition but with no significant differences in memory performance. This result suggests that the contents of working memory affect the deployment of attention in visual search. Our findings show that attentional capture occurs even within short periods of 150 ms, which demonstrates the robustness and speed of memory-driven attentional processes. Consequently, attentional capture appears to be initiated at an early phase of visual processing but can be strategically inhibited through cognitive control at later stages of analysis.
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