The time course of attentional capture under dual-task conditions

Valerio Santangelo, Fabiano Botta, Juan Lupiáez, Charles Spence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Several recent studies have shown that attention-al capture is not an automatic process. For example, abrupt peripheral onsets do not affect the processing of targets presented subsequently at that location when participants have to concurrently perform a perceptually demanding task elsewhere. This result leaves open the question of whether peripheral onsets lose their effectiveness in capturing attention or whether, instead, the performance of a perceptually demanding task entails a faster disengage-ment of attention from the cued location. Here, we measured exogenous spatial attentional-orienting effects either while participants performed a concurrent perceptu-ally demanding central-monitoring task (a rapid serial visual presentation of letters for a to-be-detected digit target; Experiments 1 and 2) or in isolation (the baseline condition in Experiment 2). The results showed that peripheral onsets captured participants' attention at both the 80-and 190-ms stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs) in the baseline condition. Crucially, however, during concur-rent central monitoring, peripheral onsets were effective in capturing attention only at an 80-ms SOA, while the orienting effect disappeared as soon as a changing letter drew participants' attention back to the central stream (at an SOA of 190 ms). These findings demonstrate that task-irrelevant abrupt onsets cannot be entirely overridden by top-down attentional control, although attentional capture effects are dramatically reduced by an ongoing perceptually demanding task.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-23
Number of pages9
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011


  • Attentional capture
  • Exogenous orienting
  • Load
  • Perception
  • Spatial cuing
  • Visual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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