The fact that we are often immediately attracted by sudden visual onsets provides a clear advantage for our survival. However, how can we resist from being continuously distracted by irrelevant repetitive onsets? Since the seminal work of Sokolov (1963), habituation of the orienting of attention has long been proposed to be a possible filtering mechanism. Here, in two experiments, we provide novel evidence showing that (a) habituation of capture of focused visual attention relies on a stored representation of the distractor onsets in relation to their context, and (b) that once formed such representation endures unchanged for weeks without any further exposure to the distractors. In agreement with the proposal of Wagner (1979) concerning the associative nature of habituation, the results of Experiment 1 suggest that habituation of attentional capture is context specific. Furthermore, the results of Experiment 2 show that to filter visual distractors our cognitive system uses long-lasting memories of the irrelevant information. Although distractor filtering can be implemented via top-down inhibitory control, neural and cognitive mechanisms underlying habituation provide a straightforward explanation for the reduced distraction obtained with training, thus working like an automatic filter that prevents irrelevant recurring stimuli from gaining access to higher stages of analysis.
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review – Springer Journals
Published: May 25, 2017
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