Does feature intertrial priming guide attention? The jury is still out

Psychon Bull Rev. 2022 Apr;29(2):369-393. doi: 10.3758/s13423-021-01997-8. Epub 2021 Oct 8.


Our search performance is strongly influenced by our past experience. In the lab, this influence has been demonstrated by investigating a variety of phenomena, including intertrial priming, statistical learning, and reward history, and collectively referred to as selection history. The resulting findings have led researchers to claim that selection history guides attention, thereby challenging the prevailing dichotomy, according to which top-down and bottom-up factors alone determine attentional priority. Here, we re-examine this claim with regard to one selection-history phenomenon, feature intertrial priming (aka priming of pop-out). We evaluate the evidence that specifically pertains to the role of feature intertrial priming in attentional guidance, rather than in later selective processes occurring after the target is found. We distinguish between the main experimental rationales, while considering the extent to which feature intertrial priming, as studied through different protocols, shares characteristics of top-down attention. We show that there is strong evidence that feature intertrial priming guides attention when the experimental protocol departs from the canonical paradigm and encourages observers to maintain the critical feature in visual working memory or to form expectations about the upcoming target. By contrast, the current evidence regarding the standard feature intertrial priming phenomenon is inconclusive. We propose directions for future research and suggest that applying the methodology used here in order to re-evaluate of the role of other selection history phenomena in attentional guidance should clarify the mechanisms underlying the strong impact of past experience on visual search performance.

Keywords: Attentional guidance; Priming of pop-out; Selection history; Visual search.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Motor Activity*
  • Reaction Time