The present experiments cannot distinguish between the two possibilities, but both possibilities involve voluntary mechanisms. [...] our results, along with Ghorashi et al.'s (2007), actually indicate that involuntary orienting driven by onsets is disrupted by the AB, whereas a combined effect of both involuntary and voluntary orienting provides a much stronger resistance to disruption.
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 2009, 16 (3), 537-541 doi:10.3758/PBR.16.3.537 Onset capture requires attention Feng Du anD RichaRD a. abRams Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri We studied exogenous cuing caused by an uninformative abrupt onset during a time when subjects were under the influence of the attentional blink. In two experiments, we found a reduced impact of exogenous cuing during the blink time of the attentional blink. The results indicate that involuntary orienting caused by abrupt onsets is sensitive to manipulation of available attentional resources. Thus, onset capture requires attention. Reflexive orienting, also known as exogenous orient- orienting elicited by onsets is effortless, demanding only ing, has been distinguished from voluntary orienting for a negligible amount of attentional resource. decades (e.g., Jonides, 1981; Posner, 1980). It is believed However, there is still debate regarding the extent to that voluntary orienting is under a person’s volitional which attentional capture caused by onsets is truly auto- control and is attention demanding, whereas reflexive matic. A few recent studies have challenged the traditional orienting is effortless and involuntary. This distinction opinion by showing that attentional capture by abrupt on- can be seen when an event such as an abrupt onset sum- sets can be interrupted by a concurrent monitoring task. mons a person’s attention in the absence of voluntary For example, Boot, Brockmole, and Simons (2005) found control (Christ & Abrams, 2006; Jonides, 1981; Yantis that abrupt onsets failed to capture attention in visual & Jonides, 1984). In addition, a very rapid search rate search when subjects had to perform a concurrent auditory for onset targets relative to nononset targets is consistent one-back task. Another recent study (Santangelo, Olivetti with the idea that onset capture is highly automatic or Belardinelli, & Spence, 2007) showed that both reflexive load insensitive (Yantis & Jonides, 1984; Yantis & Hill- visual and auditory orienting were disrupted when subjects strom, 1994). were instructed to attend to an RSVP or RSAP stream. The insensitivity of onset capture to a concurrent per- There is clearly a discrepancy between the results of ceptual or attentional load was corroborated by a recent Ghorashi et al. (2007) on one hand and Boot et al. (2005) study on the attentional blink (AB). The attentional blink and Santangelo et al. (2007) on the other. How can we refers to an impairment in the detection or identification reconcile the discrepancy? One possibility is that a con- of a second target that follows within about 500 msec of current dual task differs from an AB task. In particular, an earlier target in the same location (Raymond, Shapiro, the dual task requires continuous engagement of attention & Arnell, 1992). The impairment, or blink, lasts for a few to the primary task, whereas AB depletes attention only hundred milliseconds. If onset capture is truly not atten- for a brief period of time. This difference could account tion demanding, abrupt onsets in the periphery should for the intact cuing effect observed at longer target–probe capture attention even if they occur during the blink time lags in the Ghorashi et al. study. However, it is still neces- of the AB. Consistent with this prediction, Ghorashi, sary to explain the unimpaired cuing effect at lags of 1 Di Lollo, and Klein (2007) reported an intact cuing effect and 3, presumably during the time at which the AB was elicited by abrupt onsets during the AB (see Joseph, Chun, the strongest. & Nakayama, 1997, for an experiment with a similar ap- There is also another explanation for the apparently proach). In Ghorashi et al.’s study, after the appearance of discrepant results across studies: This alternative expla- the first target in a central RSVP stream, a solid square nation originates from previous studies that focused on was presented as a peripheral cue shortly before the ap- top-down control of onset capture. Although some stud- pearance of a ring of 12 letters. Subjects were required to ies (Jonides, 1981; Schreij, Owens, & Theeuwes, 2008) report the identity of the first target and the orientation of showed that onset capture often shows resistance to sub- the lone T in the ring. At all target–probe lags (of 90, 270, jects’ intention, many recent studies have confirmed that or 630 msec), subjects consistently showed higher accu- onset capture is subject to top-down control. For example, racy in orientation discrimination when the T appeared Folk, Remington, and Johnston (1992) found that onsets at cued locations (where the square had been presented) of uninformative cues captured attention only if subjects than when it appeared at uncued locations. The finding were required to detect an onset target but not when sub- that the cuing effect induced by onsets survived the AB jects were looking for a target in a designated color (see is consistent with the traditional idea that the involuntary also Gibson & Kelsey, 1998). Similarly, abrupt onsets of F. Du, firstname.lastname@example.org 537 © 2009 The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 538 Du anD abrams distractors fail to capture attention if the distractors do not
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