Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The question whether attentional capture by salient but task-irrelevant visual stimuli is triggered in a bottom–up fashion or depends on top–down task settings is still unresolved. Strong support for bottom–up capture was obtained in the additional singleton task, in which search arrays were visible until response onset. Equally strong evidence for top–down control of attentional capture was obtained in spatial cueing experiments in which display durations were very brief. To demonstrate the critical role of temporal task demands on salience-driven attentional capture, we measured ERP indicators of capture by task-irrelevant color singletons in search arrays that could also contain a shape target. In Experiment 1, all displays were visible until response onset. In Experiment 2, display duration was limited to 200 msec. With long display durations, color singleton distractors elicited an N2pc component that was followed by a late Pd component, suggesting that they triggered attentional capture, which was later replaced by location-specific inhibition. When search arrays were visible for only 200 msec, the distractor-elicited N2pc was eliminated and was replaced by a Pd component in the same time range, indicative of rapid suppression of capture. Results show that attentional capture by salient distractors can be inhibited for short-duration search displays, in which it would interfere with target processing. They demonstrate that salience-driven capture is not a purely bottom–up phenomenon but is subject to top–down control.