Distractor suppression leads to reduced flanker interference

Yavor Ivanov*, Jan Theeuwes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Recent studies using the additional singleton paradigm have shown that regularities in distractor locations can cause biases in the spatial priority map, such that attentional capture by salient singletons is reduced for locations that are likely to contain distractors. It has been suggested that this type of suppression is proactive (i.e., occurring before display onset). The current study replicated the original findings using an online version of the task. To further assess the suppression of high-probability locations, we employed a congruence manipulation similar to the traditional flanker effect, where distractors could be either congruent or incongruent with the response to the target. Experiment 1 shows that through statistical learning distractor suppression reduces the interference from incongruent distractors, as participants made less errors in high-probability versus low-probability conditions. In Experiment 2, participants were forced to search for a specific target feature (the so-called feature-search mode), which is assumed to allow participants to ignore distractors in a top-down manner. Yet even when this “top-down” search mode was employed, there was still a congruence effect when the distractor singleton was presented at the low-probability but not at the high-probability location. The absence, but not reversal, of a congruence effect at the high-probability location also further indicates that this distractor suppression mechanism is proactive. The results indicate that regardless of the search mode used, there is suppression of the high-probability location indicating that this location competes less for attention within the spatial priority map than all other locations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)624-636
Number of pages13
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number2
Early online date2 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
J.T. was supported by a European Research Council (ERC) advanced grant 833029—[LEARNATTEND].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).

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


  • Attention
  • Distractor suppression
  • Habituation
  • Statistical learning
  • Top-down/bottom-up


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