The Role of Context in Volitional Control of Feature-Based Attention

A.V. Belopolsky, E.S. Awh

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Visual selection can be biased toward nonspatial feature values such as color, but there is continued debate about whether this bias is subject to volitional control or whether it is an automatic bias toward recently seen target features (selection history). Although some studies have tried to separate these 2 sources of selection bias, mixed findings have not offered a clear resolution. The present work offers a possible explanation of conflicting findings by showing that the context in which a trial is presented can determine whether volitional control is observed. We used a cueing task that enabled independent assessments of the effects of color repetitions and current selection goals. When the target was presented among distractors with multiple colors (heterogeneous blocks), Experiment 1 revealed clear goal-driven selection effects, but these effects were eliminated when the target was a color singleton (pop-out blocks). When heterogeneous and pop-out displays were mixed within a block (Experiment 2), however, goal-driven selection was observed with both types of displays. In Experiment 3, this pattern was replicated using an encoding-limited task that included brief displays and an A' measure of performance. Thus, goal-driven selection of nonspatial features is potentiated in contexts where there is strong competition with distractors. Selection history has powerful effects, but we find clear evidence that observers can exert volitional control over feature-based attention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-224
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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