Cueing distraction: electrophysiological evidence for anticipatory active suppression of distractor location

Abstract

It is well known that processing at upcoming target locations can be facilitated, but mixed results have been obtained regarding the inhibition of irrelevant locations when advance information about distractors is available on a trial-to-trial basis. Here, we provide electrophysiological evidence that distractor locations can be anticipatorily suppressed. In an additional singleton search task, distractor cues were presented before the search display, which were either fully predictive or non-predictive of the location of the upcoming salient colour distractor. The PD component of the event-related potential, a marker of active suppression, was elicited by lateral singletons and smaller following predictive than non-predictive cues, indicating that less suppression was required upon presentation of the distractor when its location was known in advance. Presumably, excitability of regions processing the predictively cued locations was anticipatorily reduced to prevent distraction. This idea was further supported by the finding that larger individual cueing benefits in reaction time were associated with stronger reductions of the PD. There was no behavioural benefit at the group level, however, and implications for the role of individual differences and for the measurement of inhibition in distractor cueing tasks are discussed. The enhancement of target locations, reflected by the NT component, was not modulated by the predictiveness of the cues. Overall, our findings add to a growing literature highlighting the importance of inhibitory mechanisms for the guidance of spatial attention by showing that irrelevant locations can be anticipatorily suppressed in a top-down fashion, reducing the impact of even salient stimuli.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Data availability

The datasets generated and analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on request.

References

  1. Barras, C., & Kerzel, D. (2016). Active suppression of salient-but-irrelevant stimuli does not underlie resistance to visual interference. Biological Psychology, 121, 74–83.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Carrasco, M. (2011). Visual attention: The past 25 years. Vision Research, 51, 1484–1525.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Chang, S., Cunningham, C. A., & Egeth, H. (2018). The power of negative thinking: Paradoxical but effective ignoring of salient-but-irrelevant stimuli with a spatial cue. Visual Cognition, Advance online publication.

  4. Cook, R. D. (1977). Detection of influential observations in linear regression. Technometrics, 19, 15–18.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Desimone, R., & Duncan, J. (1995). Neural mechanisms of selective visual attention. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 18, 193–222.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Eimer, M. (1996). The N2pc component as an indicator of attentional selectivity. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 99, 225–234.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Feldmann-Wüstefeld, T., Uengoer, M., & Schubö, A. (2015). You see what you have learned. Evidence for an interrelation of associative learning and visual selective attention. Psychophysiology, 52, 1483–1497.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Feldmann-Wüstefeld, T., & Vogel, E. K. (2018). Neural evidence for the contribution of active suppression during working memory filtering. Cerebral Cortex.. https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhx336.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Ferrante, O., Patacca, A., Di Caro, V., Della Libera, C., Santandrea, E., & Chelazzi, L. (2018). Altering spatial priority maps via statistical learning of target selection and distractor filtering. Cortex, 102, 67–95.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Fortier-Gauthier, U., Moffat, N., Dell’Acqua, R., McDonald, J. J., & Jolicœur, P. (2012). Contralateral cortical organisation of information in visual short-term memory: Evidence from lateralized brain activity during retrieval. Neuropsychologia, 50, 1748–1758.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Gaspar, J. M., Christie, G. J., Prime, D. J., Jolicœur, P., & McDonald, J. J. (2016). Inability to suppress salient distractors predicts low visual working memory capacity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113, 3693–3698.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Gaspar, J. M., & McDonald, J. J. (2014). Suppression of salient objects prevents distraction in visual search. Journal of Neuroscience, 34, 5658–5666.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Gaspelin, N., Leonard, C. J., & Luck, S. J. (2015). Direct evidence for active suppression of salient-but-irrelevant sensory inputs. Psychological Science, 26, 1740–1750.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Gaspelin, N., Leonard, C. J., & Luck, S. J. (2016). Suppression of overt attentional capture by salient-but-irrelevant color singletons. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 79, 45–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Gaspelin, N., & Luck, S. J. (2018a). Combined electrophysiological and behavioral evidence for the suppression of salient distractors. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 30, 1265–1280.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Gaspelin, N., & Luck, S. J. (2018b). The role of inhibition in avoiding distraction by salient stimuli. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22, 79–92.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Geyer, T., Müller, H., & Krummenacher, J. (2008). Expectancies modulate attentional capture by salient color singletons. Vision Research, 48, 1315–1326.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Hickey, C., Di Lollo, V., & McDonald, J. J. (2009). Electrophysiological indices of target and distractor processing in visual search. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21, 760–775.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Jannati, A., Gaspar, J. M., & McDonald, J. J. (2013). Tracking target and distractor processing in fixed-feature visual search: Evidence from human electrophysiology. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 39, 1713–1730.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Luck, S. J. (2012). Electrophysiological correlates of the focusing of attention within complex visual scenes: N2pc and related ERP components. In E. S. Kappenman & S. J. Luck (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of event-related potential components (pp. 329–360). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Moher, J., Abrams, J., Egeth, H. E., Yantis, S., & Stuphorn, V. (2011). Trial-by-trial adjustments of top-down set modulate oculomotor capture. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18, 897–903.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Moher, J., & Egeth, H. E. (2012). The ignoring paradox: Cueing distractor features leads first to selection, then to inhibition of to-be-ignored items. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 74, 1590–1605.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Müller, H. J., Geyer, T., Zehetleitner, M., & Krummenacher, J. (2009). Attentional capture by salient color singleton distractors is modulated by top-down dimensional set. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 35, 1–16.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Munneke, J., Fait, E., & Mazza, V. (2013). Attentional processing of multiple targets and distractors. Psychophysiology, 50, 1104–1108.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Munneke, J., Heslenfeld, D. J., Usrey, W. M., Theeuwes, J., & Mangun, G. R. (2011). Preparatory effects of distractor suppression: Evidence from visual cortex. PLoS ONE, 6, e27700.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Munneke, J., Van der Stigchel, S., & Theeuwes, J. (2008). Cueing the location of a distractor: An inhibitory mechanism of spatial attention? Acta Psychologica, 129, 101–107.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Oostenveld, R., Fries, P., Maris, E., & Schoffelen, J. M. (2011). FieldTrip: Open source software for advanced analysis of MEG, EEG, and invasive electrophysiological data. Computational Intelligence and Neuroscience, 2011, 156869.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Posner, M. I. (1980). Orienting of attention. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 32, 3–25.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Ruff, C. C., & Driver, J. (2006). Attentional preparation for a lateralized visual distractor: Behavioral and fMRI evidence. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18, 522–538.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Sawaki, R., Geng, J. J., & Luck, S. J. (2012). A common neural mechanism for preventing and terminating the allocation of attention. Journal of Neuroscience, 32, 10725–10736.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Sawaki, R., & Luck, S. J. (2010). Capture versus suppression of attention by salient singletons: Electrophysiological evidence for an automatic attend-to-me signal. Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, 72, 1455–1470.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Sawaki, R., & Luck, S. J. (2011). Active suppression of distractors that match the contents of visual working memory. Visual Cognition, 19, 956–972.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Wang, B., & Theeuwes, J. (2018a). How to inhibit a distractor location? Statistical learning versus active, top-down suppression. Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics, 80, 860–870.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Wang, B., & Theeuwes, J. (2018b). Statistical regularities modulate attentional capture. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 44, 13–17.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. Wang, B., & Theeuwes, J. (2018c). Statistical regularities modulate attentional capture independent of search strategy. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 80, 1763–1774.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Woodman, G. F., & Luck, S. J. (2003). Serial deployment of attention during visual search. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 29, 121–138.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation—project number 222641018—SFB/TRR 135, TP B3) and was conducted while the first author was at Philipps-Universität Marburg. The authors would like to thank Aylin Hanne for assistance with data collection and valuable discussions.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anna Heuer.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures were approved by the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Psychology at Philipps-Universität Marburg and in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all participants.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Heuer, A., Schubö, A. Cueing distraction: electrophysiological evidence for anticipatory active suppression of distractor location. Psychological Research 84, 2111–2121 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01211-4

Download citation