Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The question whether target selection in visual search can be effectively controlled by simultaneous attentional templates for multiple features is still under dispute. We investigated whether multiple-color attentional guidance is possible when target colors remain constant and can thus be represented in long-term memory but not when they change frequently and have to be held in working memory. Participants searched for one, two, or three possible target colors that were specified by cue displays at the start of each trial. In constant-color blocks, the same colors remained task-relevant throughout. In variable-color blocks, target colors changed between trials. The contralateral delay activity (CDA) to cue displays increased in amplitude as a function of color memory load in variable-color blocks, which indicates that cued target colors were held in working memory. In constant-color blocks, the CDA was much smaller, suggesting that color representations were primarily stored in long-term memory. N2pc components to targets were measured as a marker of attentional target selection. Target N2pcs were attenuated and delayed during multiple-color search, demonstrating less efficient attentional deployment to color-defined target objects relative to single-color search. Importantly, these costs were the same in constant-color and variable-color blocks. These results demonstrate that attentional guidance by multiple-feature as compared with single-feature templates is less efficient both when target features remain constant and can be represented in long-term memory and when they change across trials and therefore have to be maintained in working memory.