Previous research suggests that observers can suppress salient-but-irrelevant stimuli in a top-down manner. However, one question left unresolved is whether such suppression is, in fact, solely due to distractor-feature suppression or whether it instead also reflects some degree of target-feature enhancement. The present study (N = 60) addressed this issue. On search trials (70% of trials), participants searched for a shape target when an irrelevant color singleton was either present or absent; performance was better when a color singleton was present. On interleaved probe trials (30% of trials), participants searched for a letter target. Responses were faster for the letter on a target-colored item than on a neutral-colored item, whereas responses were slower for the letter on a distractor-colored item than on a neutral-colored item. The results demonstrate that target-feature enhancement and distractor-feature suppression contribute to attentional guidance independently; enhancement and suppression flexibly guide attention as the occasion demands.
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