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.
- Pattern Recognition, Visual/physiology
- Psychological Tests
- Psychomotor Performance/physiology
- Reaction Time
- Visual Fields
- Visual search
- Attentional capture