Detecting the presence of a singleton involves focal attention

J. Theeuwes, E. van der Burg, A.V. Belopolsky

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It has been claimed that the detection of a feature singleton can be based on activity in a feature map that allows coarse coding that something unique is present in the visual field. In the present study, participants detected the presence or absence of a color singleton. Even though the letter form of the color singleton was task-irrelevant, we showed that repeating the letter form of the singleton resulted in repetition priming on the next trial. Such repetition priming was not found when a nonsingleton letter was repeated as the singleton. Since the letter form of the color singleton could only be picked up by focal attention, the repetition priming effect indicates that focal attention is allocated to the feature singleton even in the simplest present-absent feature detection tasks. We showed that this effect is equally strong in conditions of low and high perceptual load. These results are inconsistent with theories that it is possible to detect a feature singleton without directing some form of attention to its location. Copyright 2008 Psychonomic Society, Inc.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)555-560
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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