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1.  Detection is unaffected by the deployment of focal attention 
There has been much debate regarding how much information humans can extract from their environment without the use of limited attentional resources. In a recent study, Theeuwes et al. (2008) argued that even detection of simple feature targets is not possible without selection by focal attention. Supporting this claim, they found response time (RT) benefits in a simple feature (color) detection task when a target letter's identity was repeated on consecutive trials, suggesting that the letter was selected by focal attention and identified prior to detection. This intertrial repetition benefit remained even when observers were required to simultaneously identify a central digit. However, we found that intertrial repetition benefits disappeared when a simple color target was presented among a heterogeneously (rather than homogeneously) colored set of distractors, thus reducing its bottom–up salience. Still, detection performance remained high. Thus, detection performance was unaffected by whether a letter was focally attended and identified prior to detection or not. Intertrial identity repetition benefits also disappeared when observers were required to perform a simultaneous, attention-demanding central task (Experiment 2), or when unfamiliar Chinese characters were used (Experiment 3). Together, these results suggest that while shifts of focal attention can be affected by target salience, by the availability of excess cognitive resources, and by target familiarity, detection performance itself is unaffected by these manipulations and is thus unaffected by the deployment of focal attention.
PMCID: PMC3664323  PMID: 23750142
focal attention; perception; salience; locus of selection; priming
2.  Trial-by-trial adjustments of top-down set modulate oculomotor capture 
Psychonomic bulletin & review  2011;18(5):897-903.
The role of top-down control in visual search has been a subject of much debate. Recent research has focused on whether attentional and oculomotor capture by irrelevant salient distractors can be modulated through top-down control, and if so, whether top-down control can be rapidly initiated based on current task goals. In the present study, participants searched for a unique shape in an array containing otherwise homogeneous shapes. A cue prior to each trial indicated the probability that an irrelevant color singleton distractor would appear on that trial. Initial saccades were less likely to land on the target and participants took longer to initiate a saccade to the target when a color distractor was present than when it was absent; this cost was greatly reduced on trials in which the probability that a distractor would appear was high, as compared to when the probability was low. These results suggest that top-down control can modulate oculomotor capture in visual search, even in a singleton search task in which distractors are known to readily capture both attention and the eyes. Furthermore, the results show that top-down distractor suppression mechanisms can be initiated quickly in anticipation of irrelevant salient distractors and can be adjusted on a trial-by-trial basis.
PMCID: PMC3605975  PMID: 21691926
Oculomotor capture; Cognitive control; Automaticity; Precuing
3.  Why Salience is Not Enough: Reflections on Top-Down Selection in Vision 
Acta psychologica  2010;135(2):130-132.
The target article represents a distillation of nearly 20 years of work dedicated to the analysis of visual selection. Throughout these years, Jan Theeuwes and his colleagues have been enormously productive in their development of a particular view of visual selection, one that emphasizes the role of bottom-up processes. This work has been very influential, as there is substantial merit to many aspects of this research. However, this endeavor has also been provocative—the reaction to this work has resulted in a large body of research that emphasizes the role of top-down processes. Here we highlight recent work not covered in Theeuwes’s review and discuss how this literature may not be compatible with Theeuwes’s theoretical perspective. In our view this ongoing debate has been one of the most interesting and productive in the field. One can only hope that in time the ultimate result will be a complete understanding of how visual selection actually works.
PMCID: PMC2948621  PMID: 20580341

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