Moving and looming stimuli capture attention

Percept Psychophys. 2003 Oct;65(7):999-1010. doi: 10.3758/bf03194829.


Attention capture is often operationally defined as speeded search performance when an otherwise nonpredictive stimulus happens to be the target of a visual search. That is, if a stimulus captures attention, it should be searched with priority even when it is irrelevant to the task. Given this definition, only the abrupt appearance of a new object (see, e.g., Jonides & Yantis, 1988) and one type of luminance contrast change (Enns, Austen, Di Lollo, Rauschenberger, & Yantis, 2001) have been shown to strongly capture attention. We show that translating and looming stimuli also capture attention. This phenomenon does not occur for all dynamic events: We also show that receding stimuli do not attract attention. Although the sorts of dynamic events that capture attention do not fit neatly into a single category, we speculate that stimuli that signal potentially behaviorally urgent events are more likely to receive attentional priority.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Color Perception
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motion Perception*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Perceptual Closure
  • Perceptual Masking
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time
  • Size Perception*