Attentional set modulates visual areas: an event-related potential study of attentional capture
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The present experiment offers event-related potential evidence suggesting that modulation of neural activity in the visual cortex underlies top-down attentional capture by irrelevant cues. Participants performed a covert visual search task where they identified the unique stimulus in a brief, four-location display. Targets defined uniquely by color or onset were run in separate blocks, encouraging observers to adopt different attentional sets in each block. In Experiment 1, a brief, white, abrupt-onset cue highlighted one of the locations 100 or 200 ms prior to the target display. In Experiment 2, the cue display consisted of three white and one red cues simultaneously presented at the four locations. In both experiments, participants were informed that there was no predictive relation between the location of the cue and that of the target. Reaction times were dependent on the location of the preceding cue (i.e. attention was captured), but only in those blocks where the cue shared the uniquely relevant target feature. Evoked potentials over the right hemisphere were modulated during the attention-capturing blocks just prior to the cue's appearance. Additionally, the N1 wave elicited by the cue was enhanced over occipital regions during the attention-capturing blocks. These findings support the notion that attentional capture with peripheral cues is not simply reflexive but is modulated by top-down processes.
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