Temporal but not Spatial Expectation Modulates Bottom-Up Attention

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In the attentional literature there has been considerable debate about whether bottom-up attentional processes are purely stimulus driven or dependent on top-down sets and goals. One possible top-down factor that might influence bottom-up attentional processing is expectation. In this study we investigate the relationship between bottom-up attention and expectation, specifically asking whether bottom-up attention can be explained by a prediction-error. We hypothesize that unexpected stimuli generate a larger prediction error than expected stimuli, consequently leading to more attentional capture. In two experiments we used an exogenous cueing paradigm to investigate if spatial and temporal expectations about a distracting cue modulate the amount of attentional capture. In the first experiment we investigated the effect of spatial expectation on bottom-up attention, but found no evidence for an interactive relationship. In the second experiment we focused on the temporal predictability of the cue, and found a modulation of bottom-up attention by cue predictability. Specifically, unpredictable cues lead to more attentional capture compared to predictable cues, though only for a specific range of cue-target stimulus onset asynchronies. With these findings, we provide a first direct indication that expectation influences bottom-up attention, although the exact mechanism underlying the modulation is not yet clear. We propose a modulatory account of the interaction between expectation and bottom-up attention, and suggest that bottom-up attention is in principle stimulus driven but can be modulated by expectation if the temporal relationship between the cue and the target is optimal.
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