Prior-entry: a review

Conscious Cogn. 2010 Mar;19(1):364-79. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2009.12.001. Epub 2009 Dec 28.

Abstract

The law of prior entry was one of E.B. Titchener's seven fundamental laws of attention. According to Titchener (1908, p. 251): "the object of attention comes to consciousness more quickly than the objects which we are not attending to." Although researchers have been studying prior entry for more than a century now, progress in understanding the effect has been hindered by the many methodological confounds present in early research. As a consequence, it is unclear whether the behavioral effects reported in the majority of published studies in this area should be attributed to attention, decisional response biases, and/or, in the case of exogenous spatial cuing studies of the prior-entry effect, to sensory facilitation effects instead. In this article, the literature on the prior-entry effect is reviewed, the confounds present in previous research highlighted, current consensus summarized, and some of the key questions for future research outlined. In particular, recent research has now provided compelling psychophysical and electrophysiological evidence to support the claim that attending to a sensory modality, spatial location, or stimulus feature/attribute can all give rise to a relative speeding-up of the time of arrival of attended, as compared to relatively less attended (or unattended) stimuli. Prior-entry effects have now been demonstrated following both the endogenous and exogenous orienting of attention, though prior-entry effects tend to be smaller in magnitude when assessed by means of participants' performance on SJ tasks than when assessed by means of their performance on TOJ tasks.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Cues*
  • Differential Threshold / physiology
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology
  • Time Perception / physiology
  • Touch / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology