Proactive distractor suppression elicited by statistical regularities in visual search

Changrun Huang*, Ana Vilotijević, Jan Theeuwes, Mieke Donk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Irrelevant salient objects may capture our attention and interfere with visual search. Recently, it was shown that distraction by a salient object is reduced when it is presented more frequently at one location than at other locations. The present study investigates whether this reduced distractor interference is the result of proactive spatial suppression, implemented prior to display onset, or reactive suppression, occurring after attention has been directed to that location. Participants were asked to search for a shape singleton in the presence of an irrelevant salient color singleton which was presented more often at one location (the high-probability location) than at all other locations (the low-probability locations). On some trials, instead of the search task, participants performed a probe task, in which they had to detect the offset of a probe dot. The results of the search task replicated previous findings showing reduced distractor interference in trials in which the salient distractor was presented at the high-probability location as compared with the low-probability locations. The probe task showed that reaction times were longer for probes presented at the high-probability location than at the low-probability locations. These results indicate that through statistical learning the location that is likely to contain a distractor is suppressed proactively (i.e., prior to display onset). It suggests that statistical learning modulates the first feed-forward sweep of information processing by deprioritizing locations that are likely to contain a distractor in the spatial priority map.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)918-927
Number of pages10
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number3
Early online date23 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
J.T. was supported by a European Research Council (ERC) advanced grant 833029—[LEARNATTEND], and C.H. was supported by a China Scholarship Council (CSC) scholarship [201908440284]. Data and analysis materials for the experiment are available in the OSF repository ( ). The experiment was not preregistered.

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

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


  • Salience
  • Statistical learning
  • Visual selection


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