Deciding where to attend: priming of pop-out drives target selection

J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2011 Dec;37(6):1700-7. doi: 10.1037/a0025636. Epub 2011 Oct 3.


With attention and eye-movements humans orient to targets of interest. This orienting occurs faster when the same target repeats: priming of pop-out (PoP). While reaction times (RTs) can be important, PoP's real function could be to steer where to orient, a possibility underexposed in many current paradigms, as these predesignate a target to which to orient. In a novel procedure we intermixed pop-out trials (one oddball target, two identical distractors) with choice trials (one item of each kind) where observers freely chose an item to attend to. Pop-out trials strongly drove subsequent choice: observers typically chose the preceding target. Conversely, choice trials affected subsequent pop-out RTs. Conventional PoP measures correlated positively with our choice measures among observers, suggesting common mechanisms. Our results support PoP accounts centered on altered target priority, and underscore PoP's importance for visual exploration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Eye Movements
  • Humans
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time
  • Repetition Priming
  • Visual Perception*