Anticipatory Distractor Suppression Elicited by Statistical Regularities in Visual Search

J Cogn Neurosci. 2019 Oct;31(10):1535-1548. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01433. Epub 2019 Jun 10.


Salient yet irrelevant objects often capture our attention and interfere with our daily tasks. Distraction by salient objects can be reduced by suppressing the location where they are likely to appear. The question we addressed here was whether suppression of frequent distractor locations is already implemented beforehand, in anticipation of the stimulus. Using EEG, we recorded cortical activity of human participants searching for a target while ignoring a salient distractor. The distractor was presented more often at one location than at any other location. We found reduced capture for distractors at frequent locations, indicating that participants learned to avoid distraction. Critically, we found evidence for "proactive suppression" as already "prior to display onset," there was enhanced power in parieto-occipital alpha oscillations contralateral to the frequent distractor location-a signal known to occur in anticipation of irrelevant information. Locked to display onset, ERP analysis showed a distractor suppression-related distractor positivity (PD) component for this location. Importantly, this PD was found regardless of whether distracting information was presented at the frequent location. In addition, there was an early PD component representing an early attentional index of the frequent distractor location. Our results show anticipatory (proactive) suppression of frequent distractor locations in visual search already starting prior to display onset.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alpha Rhythm / physiology*
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult