The attentional effects of single cues and color singletons on visual sensitivity

J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2014 Apr;40(2):639-52. doi: 10.1037/a0033775. Epub 2013 Jul 22.


Sudden changes in the visual periphery can automatically draw attention to their locations. For example, the brief flash of a single object (a "cue") rapidly enhances contrast sensitivity for subsequent stimuli in its vicinity. Feature singletons (e.g., a red circle among green circles) can also capture attention in a variety of tasks. Here, we evaluate whether a peripheral cue that enhances contrast sensitivity when it appears alone has a similar effect when it appears as a color singleton, with the same stimuli and task. In four experiments we asked observers to report the orientation of a target Gabor stimulus, which was preceded by an uninformative cue array consisting either of a single disk or of 16 disks containing a color or luminance singleton. Accuracy was higher and contrast thresholds lower when the single cue appeared at or near the target's location, compared with farther away. The color singleton also modulated performance but to a lesser degree and only when it appeared exactly at the target's location. Thus, this is the first study to demonstrate that cueing by color singletons, like single cues, can enhance sensory signals at an early stage of processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Color Perception / physiology
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult