Priming of probabilistic attentional templates

Árni Kristjánsson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Attentional priming has a dominating influence on vision, speeding visual search, releasing items from crowding, reducing masking effects, and during free-choice, primed targets are chosen over unprimed ones. Many accounts postulate that templates stored in working memory control what we attend to and mediate the priming. But what is the nature of these templates (or representations)? Analyses of real-world visual scenes suggest that tuning templates to exact color or luminance values would be impractical since those can vary greatly because of changes in environmental circumstances and perceptual interpretation. Tuning templates to a range of the most probable values would be more efficient. Recent evidence does indeed suggest that the visual system represents such probability, gradually encoding statistical variation in the environment through repeated exposure to input statistics. This is consistent with evidence from neurophysiology and theoretical neuroscience as well as computational evidence of probabilistic representations in visual perception. I argue that such probabilistic representations are the unit of attentional priming and that priming of, say, a repeated single-color value simply involves priming of a distribution with no variance. This "priming of probability" view can be modelled within a Bayesian framework where priming provides contextual priors. Priming can therefore be thought of as learning of the underlying probability density function of the target or distractor sets in a given continuous task.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Psychonomic Society, Inc.

Other keywords

  • Attentional priming
  • Bayesian inference and parameter estimation
  • Predictive coding
  • Visual perception


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