Region-based shielding of visual search from salient distractors: Target detection is impaired with same- but not different-dimension distractors

Research paper by Marian Sauter, Heinrich René Liesefeld, Michael Zehetleitner, Hermann J. Müller

Indexed on: 04 Jan '18Published on: 03 Jan '18Published in: Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics


Shielding visual search against interference from salient distractors becomes more efficient over time for display regions where distractors appear more frequently, rather than only rarely Goschy, Bakos, Müller, & Zehetleitner (Frontiers in Psychology 5: 1195, 2014). We hypothesized that the locus of this learned distractor probability-cueing effect depends on the dimensional relationship of the to-be-inhibited distractor relative to the to-be-attended target. If the distractor and target are defined in different visual dimensions (e.g., a color-defined distractor and orientation-defined target, as in Goschy et al. (Frontiers in Psychology 5: 1195, 2014), distractors may be efficiently suppressed by down-weighting the feature contrast signals in the distractor-defining dimension Zehetleitner, Goschy, & Müller (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 38: 941–957, 2012), with stronger down-weighting being applied to the frequent- than to the rare-distractor region. However, given dimensionally coupled feature contrast signal weighting (cf. Müller J, Heller & Ziegler (Perception & Psychophysics 57:1–17, 1995), this dimension-(down-)weighting strategy would not be effective when the target and the distractors are defined within the same dimension. In this case, suppression may operate differently: by inhibiting the entire frequent-distractor region on the search-guiding master saliency map. The downside of inhibition at this level is that, although it reduces distractor interference in the inhibited (frequent-distractor) region, it also impairs target processing in that region—even when no distractor is actually present in the display. This predicted qualitative difference between same- and different-dimension distractors was confirmed in the present study (with 184 participants), thus furthering our understanding of the functional architecture of search guidance, especially regarding the mechanisms involved in shielding search from the interference of distractors that consistently occur in certain display regions.