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You're more flexible than you think: Re-conceptualizing the top-down control of visual-spatial attentional capture

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Title: You're more flexible than you think: Re-conceptualizing the top-down control of visual-spatial attentional capture
Author: Giammarco, Anna Maria
Department: Department of Psychology
Program: Psychology
Advisor: Al-Aidroos, Naseem
Abstract: We have long known that unexpected salient properties of our visual environments, like the flashing lights on an ambulance, capture our spatial attention, leading to faster processing of objects appearing in the same spatial location as compared to objects appearing elsewhere. One of the more provocative discoveries of the attentional capture literature is that spatial capture can be constrained by our voluntary goals, or Attentional Control Settings (ACSs). ACSs determine which stimuli or stimulus properties capture spatial attention: When looking for a red object, the unexpected appearance of other red objects will capture attention, while, importantly, the unexpected appearance of green objects will not. Current conceptualizations of ACSs, however, constrain their role in the support of more complex behaviours: The number of items contained within ACSs is believed to be limited to one, perhaps two items, and the role of voluntary control in the implementation of these ACSs (i.e., whether we are able to directly choose what items capture attention) has been challenged by a feature priming model (i.e., prior experience responding to task targets determines what items capture attention). The purpose of this thesis was to examine whether ACSs are more flexible than outlined in current literature in terms of the number of representations they comprise and in the implementation of ACSs. Chapters 1 to 5 used modified spatial capture paradigms to demonstrate that standard measures of spatial capture were contingent on ACSs for up to 30 items stored in episodic long-term memory. Chapters 6 and 7 then contrasted a voluntary model of ACS implementation against a feature priming model. Here, manipulations of feature priming had limited influence on contingent capture; instead, behaviour adhered more closely to a voluntary implementation account, and point towards a potential role for target selection in the maintenance (rather than implementation) of ACSs. These studies re-conceptualize our understanding of ACSs with regard to both the role of the memory systems supporting the contents of ACSs, and of voluntary control in driving the implementation of ACSs, while contributing to the on-going development of more comprehensive models of this sophisticated attentional mechanism of control over capture.
Date: 2016-11
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