Strategic distractor suppression improves selective control in human vision

Wieske Van Zoest*, Christoph Huber-Huber, Matthew D. Weaver, Clayton Hickey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
53 Downloads (Pure)


Our visual environment is complicated, and our cognitive capacity is limited. As a result, we must strategically ignore some stimuli to prioritize others. Common sense suggests that foreknowledge of distractor characteristics, like location or color, might help us ignore these objects. But empirical studies have provided mixed evidence, often showing that knowing about a distractor before it appears counterintuitively leads to its attentional selection. What has looked like strategic distractor suppression in the past is now commonly explained as a product of prior experience and implicit statistical learning, and the long-standing notion the distractor suppression is reflected in a band oscillatory brain activity has been challenged by results appearing to link a to target resolution. Can we strategically, proactively suppress distractors? And, if so, does this involve a? Here, we use the concurrent recording of human EEG and eye movements in optimized experimental designs to identify behavior and brain activity associated with proactive distractor suppression. Results from three experiments show that knowing about distractors before they appear causes a reduction in electrophysiological indices of covert attentional selection of these objects and a reduction in the overt deployment of the eyes to the location of the objects. This control is established before the distractor appears and is predicted by the power of cue-elicited a activity over the visual cortex. Foreknowledge of distractor characteristics therefore leads to improved selective control, and a oscillations in visual cortex reflect the implementation of this strategic, proactive mechanism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7120-7135
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number33
Early online date8 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Received Mar. 16, 2021; revised May 28, 2021; accepted June 29, 2021. Author contributions: W.v.Z., C.H.-H., M.D.W., and C.H. designed research; C.H.-H. and M.D.W. performed research; C.H. analyzed data; W.v.Z. and C.H. wrote the paper. This work was supported by an H2020 European Research Council Starting Grant (804360-INSENSE) to C.H. We thank Oscar Ferrante, Ole Jensen, and Damiano Grignolio for discussion and Hanna Kadel for discussion and research support. The authors declare no competing financial interests. Correspondence should be addressed to Wieske van Zoest at [email protected] or Clayton Hickey at [email protected]. Copyright © 2021 the authors

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 the authors.


  • Alpha
  • Attention
  • Distractor positivity
  • Distractor suppression
  • Electroencephalogram
  • N2pc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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