Involuntary attentional capture by task-irrelevant objects that match the search template for category detection in natural scenes

Reshanne R. Reeder, Wieske van Zoest, Marius V. Peelen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Theories of visual search postulate that the selection of targets amongst distractors involves matching visual input to a top-down attentional template. Previous work has provided evidence that feature-based attentional templates affect visual processing globally across the visual field. In the present study, we asked whether more naturalistic, category-level attentional templates also modulate visual processing in a spatially global and obligatory way. Subjects were cued to detect people or cars in a diverse set of photographs of real-world scenes. On a subset of trials, silhouettes of people and cars appeared in search-irrelevant locations that subjects were instructed to ignore, and subjects were required to respond to the location of a subsequent dot probe. In three experiments, results showed a consistency effect on dot-probe trials: dot probes were detected faster when they appeared in the location of the cued category compared with the non-cued category, indicating attentional capture by template-matching stimuli. Experiments 1 and 2 showed that this capture was involuntary: consistency effects persisted under conditions in which attending to silhouettes of the cued category was detrimental to performance. Experiment 3 tested whether these effects could be attributed to non-attentional effects related to the processing of the category cues. Results showed a consistency effect when subjects searched for category exemplars but not when they searched for objects semantically related to the cued category. Together, these results indicate that attentional templates for familiar object categories affect visual processing across the visual field, leading to involuntary attentional capture by template-matching stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1070-1080
Number of pages11
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number4
Early online date26 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - May 2015


  • Attention
  • Attentional capture
  • Visual search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language


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