The ignoring paradox: Cueing distractor features leads first to selection, then to inhibition of to-be-ignored items

Jeff Moher, Howard E. Egeth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


Observers find a target item more quickly when they have foreknowledge of target-defining attributes, such as identity, color, or location. However, it is less clear whether foreknowledge of nontarget attributes can also speed search. Munneke, Van der Stigchel, and Theeuwes Acta Psychologica 129:101-107, (2008) found that observers found the target more quickly when they were cued to ignore a region of space where a target would not appear. Using a similar paradigm, we explored the effects of cueing nontarget features on search. We found that when we cued observers to ignore nontarget features, search was slowed. The results from a probe-dot detection task revealed that this slowing occurred because, paradoxically, observers initially selected an item appearing in the to-be-ignored color. Finally, we found that cueing nontarget features sped search when placeholders matching the location of the to-be-ignored color preceded presentation of the search display by at least 800 ms; thus, it appears that some limited inhibition of to-be-ignored items occurs following selection. Taken together, these results suggest that observers are unable to explicitly avoid selection of items matching known nontarget features. Instead, when nontarget features are cued, observers select the to-be-ignored feature or the locations of objects matching that feature early in search, and only inhibit them after this selection process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1590-1605
Number of pages16
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2012


  • Attention
  • Inhibition
  • Visual search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language


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