Across-trial spatial suppression in visual search

Lishuang Wang, Benchi Wang*, Jan Theeuwes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In order to focus on objects of interest, humans must be able to avoid distraction by salient stimuli that are not relevant to the task at hand. Many recent studies have shown that through statistical learning we are able to suppress the location that is most likely to contain a salient distractor. Here we demonstrate a remarkable flexibility in attentional suppression. Participants had to search for a shape singleton while a color distractor singleton was present. Unbeknown to the participant, the color distractor was presented according to a consistent pattern across trials. Our findings show that participants learn this distractor sequence as they proactively suppressed the anticipated location of the distractor on the next trial. Critically, none of the participants were aware of these hidden sequences. We conclude that the spatial priority map is highly flexible, operating at a subconscious level preparing the attentional system for what will happen next.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2744-2752
Number of pages9
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number7
Early online date25 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
BW and JT are both senior authors. BW and JT designed the experiment, LW collected and analyzed the data, LW, JT, and BW wrote the paper. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission and declared no competing financial interests. This research was supported by the Key-Area Research and Development Program of Guangdong Province (2019B030335001), the Guangdong Regional Joint Foundation (2019A1515110581), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) grant (32000738) to BW. Neither of the experiments reported in this article was formally preregistered. Data can be accessed through , and none of the experiments was preregistered.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Attentional selection
  • Implicit
  • Priority map
  • Proactive suppression


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