Implicit learning modulates attention capture: evidence from an item-specific proportion congruency manipulation
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A host of research has now shown that our explicit goals and intentions can, in large part, overcome the capture of visual attention by objects that differ from their surroundings in terms of size, shape, or color. Surprisingly however, there is little evidence for the role of implicit learning in mitigating capture effects despite the fact that such learning has been shown to strongly affect behavior in a host of other performance domains. Here, we employ a modified attention capture paradigm, based on the work of Theeuwes (1991, 1992), in which participants must search for an odd-shaped target amongst homogeneous distracters. On each trial, there is also a salient, but irrelevant odd-colored distracter. Across the experiments reported, we intermix two search contexts: for one set of distracters (e.g., squares) the shape singleton and color singleton coincide on a majority of trials (high proportion congruent condition), whereas for the other set of distracters (e.g., circles) the shape and color singletons are highly unlikely to coincide (low proportion congruent condition). Crucially, we find that observers learn to allow the capture of attention by the salient distracter to a greater extent in the high, compared to the low proportion congruent condition, albeit only when search is sufficiently difficult. Moreover, this effect of prior experience on search behavior occurs in the absence of awareness of our proportion manipulation. We argue that low-level properties of the search displays recruit representations of prior experience in a rapid, flexible, and implicit manner.
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