Perception & Psychophysics

, Volume 55, Issue 4, pp 399-411

First online:

Visual motion and attentional capture

  • Anne P. HillstromAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Johns Hopkins University
  • , Steven YantisAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Johns Hopkins University


Previous work has shown that abrupt visual onsets capture attention. This occurs even with stimuli that are equiluminant with the background, which suggests that the appearance of a new perceptual object, not merely a change in luminance, captures attention. Three experiments are reported in which this work was extended by investigating the possible role of visual motion in attentional capture. Experiment 1 revealed that motion can efficiently guide attention when it is perfectly informative about the location of a visual search target, but that it does not draw attention when it does not predict the target’s position. This result was obtained with several forms of motion, including oscillation, looming, and nearby moving contours. To account for these and other results, we tested anew-object account of attentional capture in Experiment 2 by using a global/local paradigm. When motion segregated a local letter from its perceptual group, the local letter captured attention as indexed by an effect on latency of response to the task-relevant global configuration. Experiment 3 ruled out the possibility that the motion in Experiment 2 captured attention merely by increasing the salience of the moving object. We argue instead that when motion segregates a perceptual element from a perceptual group, a new perceptual object is created, and this event captures attention. Together, the results suggest that motion as such does not capture attention but that the appearance of a new perceptual object does.