Target and distractor processing and the allocation of attention to task-irrelevant threat

Paul Bretherton, Michael Eysenck, Anne Richards, Amanda Holmes

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This study investigated thecharacteristics of two distinct mechanisms of attention – stimulus enhancementand stimulus suppression – using an event-related potential (ERP) approach.Across three experiments, participants viewed sparse visual search arrayscontaining one target and one distractor. The main results of Experiments 1 and2 revealed that whereas neural signals for stimuli that are not inherently salientcould be directly suppressed without prior attentional enhancement, this wasnot the case for stimuli with motivational relevance (human faces). Experiment3 showed that as task difficulty increased, so did the need for suppression ofdistractor stimuli. It also showed the preferential attentional enhancement ofangry over neutral distractor faces, but only under conditions of high taskdifficulty, suggesting that the effects of distractor valence on attention aregreatest when there are fewer available resources for distractor processing. Theimplications of these findings are considered in relation to contemporarytheories of attention.

© 2017, 2017 Elsevier Ltd. The attached document (embargoed until 09/11/2018) is an author produced version of a paper published in Neuropsychologia, uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at the link below. Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2017


  • Attentional Capture
  • Suppression
  • Load
  • ERP
  • NT
  • PD
  • ND
  • N2pc

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