, Volume 70, Issue 1, pp 13-25
Date: 31 Aug 2004

The time course of intended and unintended allocation of attention

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Abstract

According to the contingent involuntary orienting hypothesis, only stimuli that match the attentional control settings based on intentions capture attention. In contrast, the surprise-capture hypothesis states that expectancy-discrepant stimuli can capture attention even if they do not match the control settings, implying unintended capture. The purpose of this study is to investigate whether unintended and intended attentional shifts are characterized by different time courses, indicating different underlying mechanisms. An unintended attentional shift was tested by the first, unannounced presentation of a color singleton at the location of a visual search target, and intended shifts by the following repeated presentations of a predictive singleton. Differences in time course were revealed by varying the stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) between singleton and target. Results showed that accuracy with expected singletons was barely affected by SOA, whereas SOA strongly affected accuracy with the unexpected singleton. The results are interpreted as supporting the surprise-capture hypothesis. It is furthermore argued that a division of labor between contingent capture and surprise in the control of attention supports adaptive behavior.