Spatial suppression due to statistical regularities is driven by distractor suppression not target activation


Where and what we attend to is not only determined by what we are currently looking for but also by what we have encountered in the past. Recent studies suggest that biasing the probability by which distractors appear at locations in visual space may lead to attentional suppression of high-probability distractor locations, which effectively reduces capture by a distractor but also impairs target selection at this location. However, in many of these studies introducing a high-probability distractor location was equivalent to increasing the probability of the target appearing in any of the other locations (i.e., the low-probability distractor locations). Here, we investigate an alternative interpretation of previous findings according to which attentional selection at highprobability distractor locations is not suppressed but selection at low-probability distractor locations is facilitated. In two visual search tasks, we found no evidence for this hypothesis: there was no evidence for spatial suppression when only target probabilities were biased (Experiment 1), nor did the spatial suppression disappear when only the distractor probabilities were biased while the target probabilities were equal (Experiment 2). We conclude that recurrent presentation of a distractor in a specific location leads to attentional suppression of that location through a mechanism that is unaffected by any regularities regarding the target position.

Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, 81(5), 1405-1414 (* shared first authorship)