Exogenous and endogenous control of attention: the effect of visual onsets and offsets

Percept Psychophys. 1991 Jan;49(1):83-90. doi: 10.3758/bf03211619.


Two experiments were carried out to investigate the relation between exogenous and endogenous control of visual attention. Subjects searched for a target letter among three nontarget letters that were positioned on an imaginary circle around a fixation point. At different cue-display intervals, a centrally located arrowhead cue reliably indicated the location of the target letter. At different SOAs, a peripheral line segment near one of the letters was either abruptly switched on (Experiment 1) or abruptly switched off (Experiment 2). Presenting the central arrowhead after display onset prevents attention from being focused in advance on the critical location. In this unfocused attentional state, both onset and offset transients attracted attention. When the central arrowhead was available in advance, the focusing of attention prior to display onset precluded attention attraction to the location of the onset or offset transient. Contrary to an offset transient, an onset transient presented at the attended location disrupted performance, indicating that an onset within the spotlight of attention attracts attention. The results are reconciled by means of the zoom-lens theory of attention, suggesting that outside the focus of attention, abrupt transients are not capable of attracting attention. Since the size of the zoom lens is under voluntary control, it can be argued that transients do not fulfill the intentionality criterion of automaticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Humans
  • Orientation*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*