Certain stimuli have the power to rapidly and involuntarily capture spatial attention against our will. The present study investigated whether such stimuli capture spatial attention even when they appear in ignored regions of visual space. In other words, which force is more powerful: attentional capture or spatial filtering? Participants performed a spatial cuing task, searching for a letter target defined by color (e.g., green) and then reporting that letter's identity. Two of the four search locations were always irrelevant. Unlike many previous experiments, participants were forced to ignore these locations because they always contained a target-colored distractor letter. Experiment 1 assessed capture by a salient-but-irrelevant abrupt onset cue appearing 150 ms before the search display. One might expect onset cues to capture attention even at ignored locations given that the main function of capture, presumably, is to rapidly alert observers to unexpected yet potentially important stimuli. However, they did not. Experiment 2 replicated this result with a different neutral baseline condition. Experiment 3 replicated the absence of capture effects at ignored locations with an even more potent stimulus: a relevant cue possessing the target color. We propose that people are effectively immune to attentional capture by objects in ignored locations - spatial filtering dominates attentional capture.
Keywords: Abrupt onsets; Attentional capture; Inattention blindness; Selective attention; Spatial attention; Visual search.