Attentional priming does not enable observers to ignore salient distractors

Árni Gunnar Ásgeirsson*, Árni Kristjánsson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


It is commonly assumed that we find targets faster if we know what they look like. Such top-down guidance plays an important role in theories of visual attention. A recent provocative proposal is that effects attributed to top-down guidance instead reflect attentional priming. Theeuwes and van der Burg [(2011). On the limits of top-down control of visual selection. Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics. 73(7), 2092–2103. doi:10.3758/s13414-011-0176-9] found that observers could not use top-down set to ignore irrelevant singletons but when priming was maximal such distractors could be successfully ignored, suggesting that feature-based top-down selection is impossible but that this can be overcome when a target feature is constant on consecutive trials. Using a variant of their task, we found that participants were unable to ignore a known colour singleton, but also that repetition priming did not help participants ignore the salient distractor. Our results stand in direct contrast to the results of Theeuwes and van der Burg and cast doubt upon the claim that priming effects can explain top-down effects in visual search. Notably the priming effects we do see are mostly episodic rather than featural which means that they cannot serve as a feature-based selection mechanism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-608
Number of pages14
JournalVisual Cognition
Issue number5-8
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Other keywords

  • congruence effects
  • feature-based selection
  • Priming
  • top-down attention
  • visual attention
  • visual search


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