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How Task Goals Prevent Distraction by Salient Events
Dr. Roger Remington
Professor Emeritusr, School of Psychology
University of Queensland
Tuesday, September 15th, 11:30 am Tolentine 303A
The distracting effects of salient events can be greatly reduced, even eliminated, when those events do not share features with the active search goal. It has been proposed that such feature selectivity works by drawing on similar neural resources to those required for working memory (WM). If so, the ability to bias attention to goal-relevant features should be reduced when observers are under high WM load, and in individuals with a low WM capacity. I discuss work with colleagues using electroencephalography (EEG) to record brain activity while observers monitored dynamic stimulus streams for targets defined by a particular feature value (e.g., the color red). The first experiment replicated previous findings that distractors possessing the target feature value evoke a larger N2pc (an electrophysiological marker of attentional capture), and slow target responses more, than distractors with a non-target feature. Subsequent experiments showed that increasing WM load impaired performance on the attention task in general, but did not reduce feature-based biases on attention. The findings suggest that WM and feature-based attention draw upon separate pools of neural resources. This conclusion has implications for how frontal areas involved in goal maintenance interact with parietal areas involved in selective attention to prevent distraction by salient events.