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Is predictability salient? A study of attentional capture by auditory patterns.


In this series of behavioural and electroencephalography (EEG) experiments, we investigate the extent to which repeating patterns of sounds capture attention. Work in the visual domain has revealed attentional capture by statistically predictable stimuli, consistent with predictive coding accounts which suggest that attention is drawn to sensory regularities. Here, stimuli comprised rapid sequences of tone pips, arranged in regular (REG) or random (RAND) patterns. EEG data demonstrate that the brain rapidly recognizes predictable patterns manifested as a rapid increase in responses to REG relative to RAND sequences. This increase is reminiscent of the increase in gain on neural responses to attended stimuli often seen in the neuroimaging literature, and thus consistent with the hypothesis that predictable sequences draw attention. To study potential attentional capture by auditory regularities, we used REG and RAND sequences in two different behavioural tasks designed to reveal effects of attentional capture by regularity. Overall, the pattern of results suggests that regularity does not capture attention.This article is part of the themed issue 'Auditory and visual scene analysis'.