Cognitive development attenuates audiovisual distraction and promotes the selection of task-relevant perceptual saliency during visual search on complex scenes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • Clarissa Cavallina
  • Giovanna Puccio
  • Michelle Capurso
  • Andrew Bremner
  • Valerio Santangelo

Colleges, School and Institutes


Searching for a target while avoiding distraction is a core function of selective attention involving both voluntary and reflexive mechanisms. Here, for the first time, we investigated the development of the interplay between voluntary and reflexive mechanisms of selective attention from childhood to early adulthood. We asked 6-, 10-, and 20-year-old participants to search for a target presented in one hemifield of a complex scene, preceded by a task-irrelevant auditory cue on either the target side (valid), the opposite side (invalid), or both sides (neutral). For each scene we computed the number of salient locations (NSL) and the target saliency (TgS). All age groups showed comparable orienting effects (“valid minus neutral” trials), indicating a similar capture of spatial attention by valid cues which was independent of age. However, only adults demonstrated a suppression of the reorienting effect (“invalid minus neutral” trials), indicating late developments in the reallocation of spatial attention toward a target following auditory distraction. The searching performance of the children (both 6- and 10-year-olds), but not of the adults, was predicted by the NSL, indicating an attraction of processing resources to salient but task-irrelevant locations in childhood; conversely, only adults showed greater performance with increased TgS in valid trials, indicating late development in the use of task-related saliency. These findings highlight qualitatively different mechanisms of selective attention operating at different ages, demonstrating important developmental changes in the interplay between voluntary and reflexive mechanisms of selective attention during visual search in complex scenes.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-98
Number of pages8
Early online date12 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018