Perceptual load affects exogenous spatial orienting while working memory load does not

Valerio Santangelo, Paola Finoia, Antonino Raffone, Marta Olivetti Belardinelli, Charles Spence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examined whether or not increasing visual perceptual load or visual working memory (WM) load would affect the exogenous orienting of visuo-spatial attention, in order to assess whether or not exogenous orienting is genuinely automatic. In Experiment 1, we manipulated visual perceptual load by means of a central morphing shape that in some trials morphed into a particular target shape (a rectangle) that participants had to detect. In Experiment 2, the possibility that the presentation of any changing stimulus at fixation would eliminate exogenous orienting was ruled out, by presenting two alternating letters at fixation. In Experiment 3, we manipulated visual WM load by means of arrays consisting of three (low-load) or five (high-load) randomly located coloured squares. The participants had to remember these items in order to judge whether a cued square had been presented in the same or different colour at the end of each trial. In all the experiments, exogenous visuo-spatial attentional orienting was measured by means of an orthogonal spatial cuing task, in which the participants had to discriminate the elevation (up vs. down) of a visual target previously cued by a spatially nonpredictive visual cue. The results showed that increasing the perceptual load of the task eliminated the exogenous orienting of visuo-spatial attention. By contrast, increasing the WM load had no effect on spatial orienting. These results are discussed in terms of the light that they shed on claims regarding the automaticity of visuo-spatial exogenous orienting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-382
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2008


  • Attentional capture
  • Automaticity
  • Exogenous orienting
  • Load
  • Perceptual
  • Spatial attention
  • Visual
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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