Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
People are quicker to detect examples of real-world object categories in natural scenes than is predicted by classic attention theories. One explanation for this puzzle suggests that experience renders the visual system sensitive to midlevel features diagnosing target presence. These are detected without the need for spatial attention, much as occurs for targets defined by low-level features like color or orientation. The alternative is that naturalistic search relies on spatial attention but is highly efficient because global scene information can be used to quickly reject nontarget objects and locations. Here, we use ERPs to differentiate between these possibilities. Results show that hallmark evidence of ultrafast target detection in frontal brain activity is preceded by an index of spatially specific distractor suppression in visual cortex. Naturalistic search for heterogenous targets therefore appears to rely on spatial operations that act on neural object representations, as predicted by classic attention theory. People appear able to rapidly reject nontarget objects and locations, consistent with the idea that global scene information is used to constrain naturalistic search and increase search efficiency.