The adaptive character of the attentional system: statistical sensitivity in a target localization task.

Date of Original Version




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Abstract or Description

A localization task required participants to indicate which of 4 locations contained a briefly displayed target. Most displays also contained a distractor that was not equally probable in these locations, affecting performance dramatically. Responses were faster when a display had no distractor and almost as fast when the distractor was in its frequent location. Conversely, responses were slower when targets appeared in frequent-distractor locations, even thou targets were equally likely in each location. Negative-priming effects were reliably smaller when targets followed distractors in the frequent-distractor location compared to the rare-distractor location, challenging the episodic-retrieval account Experiment 2 added a 5th location that rarely displayed distractors and never targets, yet responses slowed most when distractors appeared there. The results confirmed that the attentional system is sensitive to first- and higher-order statistical patterns and can make short- and long-term adjustments in preferences based on prior history of inspecting unsuccessful locations.




Published In

Journal of experimental psychology. Human perception and performance, 29, 3, 631-649.