Global enhancement of target color - not proactive suppression - explains attentional deployment during visual search

Matt Oxner*, Jasna Martinovic, Norman Forschack, Romy Lempe, Matthias Mueller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current study touches on a central debate in the area of attention: how the human brain handles distraction by salient stimuli. The idea of proactive suppression proposes a new fundamental perceptual mechanism to resolve this question, whereby attentional capture by a task-irrelevant salient distractor can be preempted through top-down inhibitory mechanisms (Gaspelin et al., 2015). In this study, we replicate empirical effects underlying this claim, but show that they are better explained by an alternative mechanism, global target feature enhancement. Identical to original studies using a capture-probe dual task design, observers recalled fewer letters superimposed upon color singleton distractors, relative to other irrelevant search items (fillers). However, given that fillers (but not singleton distractors) always matched the color of the target, this effect could have been due to global featural attention to the target color rather than suppression of the singleton distractor. After manipulating the color of fillers such that they no longer matched the target color, probe recall associated with these was reduced, causing the relative “suppression” of singleton distractors to be abolished. We then manipulated the color similarity of targets and fillers, and found that filler probe recall was graded as a function of this color similarity, even within a single search context. This strongly suggests that increased attention to fillers due to global target color enhancement underlies the difference in attention among distractor items, not proactive distractor suppression. In contrast with feature enhancement and reactive suppression, the proposed proactive suppression mechanism still lacks convincing behavioral evidence.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 19 Nov 2022


  • visual search
  • global feature enhancement
  • attention suppression
  • distractor suppression
  • proactive suppression


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