Memory & Cognition

, Volume 23, Issue 5, pp 547-550

First online:

Familiarity and attention: Does what we know affect what we notice?

  • John ChristieAffiliated withPsychology Department, Dalhousie University Email author 
  • , Raymond KleinAffiliated withPsychology Department, Dalhousie University


Previous work on the object and word superiority effects has demonstrated that activation from stored representations can facilitate identification of items in a visual display. We predicted that activation of this sort might exogenously attract visual attention toward items that have stored representations. To test this prediction, we presented a familiar (word) and an unfamiliar (nonword) item simultaneously at unpredictable locations, and after varying delays, moved one of the stimuli. In accord with our prediction, at the shortest intervals subjects were more efficient at discriminating motion of the familiar item. Control data demonstrated that this advantage was due to a competitive interaction and not to the familiarity of the items per se.