Cueing distraction: electrophysiological evidence for anticipatory active suppression of distractor location

Psychol Res. 2020 Nov;84(8):2111-2121. doi: 10.1007/s00426-019-01211-4. Epub 2019 Jun 14.


It is well known that processing at upcoming target locations can be facilitated, but mixed results have been obtained regarding the inhibition of irrelevant locations when advance information about distractors is available on a trial-to-trial basis. Here, we provide electrophysiological evidence that distractor locations can be anticipatorily suppressed. In an additional singleton search task, distractor cues were presented before the search display, which were either fully predictive or non-predictive of the location of the upcoming salient colour distractor. The PD component of the event-related potential, a marker of active suppression, was elicited by lateral singletons and smaller following predictive than non-predictive cues, indicating that less suppression was required upon presentation of the distractor when its location was known in advance. Presumably, excitability of regions processing the predictively cued locations was anticipatorily reduced to prevent distraction. This idea was further supported by the finding that larger individual cueing benefits in reaction time were associated with stronger reductions of the PD. There was no behavioural benefit at the group level, however, and implications for the role of individual differences and for the measurement of inhibition in distractor cueing tasks are discussed. The enhancement of target locations, reflected by the NT component, was not modulated by the predictiveness of the cues. Overall, our findings add to a growing literature highlighting the importance of inhibitory mechanisms for the guidance of spatial attention by showing that irrelevant locations can be anticipatorily suppressed in a top-down fashion, reducing the impact of even salient stimuli.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Young Adult