Long‐term (statistically learnt) and short‐term (inter‐trial) distractor‐location effects arise at different pre‐ and post‐selective processing stages.

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    • Abstract:
      A salient distractor interferes less with visual search if it appears at a location where it is likely to occur, referred to as distractor‐location probability cueing. Conversely, if the current target appears at the same location as a distractor on the preceding trial, search is impeded. While these two location‐specific "suppression" effects reflect long‐term, statistically learnt and short‐term, inter‐trial adaptations of the system to distractors, it is unclear at what stage(s) of processing they arise. Here, we adopted the additional‐singleton paradigm and examined lateralized event‐related potentials (L‐ERPs) and lateralized alpha (8–12 Hz) power to track the temporal dynamics of these effects. Behaviorally, we confirmed both effects: reaction times (RTs) interference was reduced for distractors at frequent versus rare (distractor) locations, and RTs were delayed for targets that appeared at previous distractor versus non‐distractor locations. Electrophysiologically, the statistical‐learning effect was not associated with lateralized alpha power during the pre‐stimulus period. Rather, it was seen in an early N1pc referenced to the frequent distractor location (whether or not a distractor or a target occurred there), indicative of a learnt top‐down prioritization of this location. This early top‐down influence was systematically modulated by (competing) target‐ and distractor‐generated bottom‐up saliency signals in the display. In contrast, the inter‐trial effect was reflected in an enhanced SPCN when the target was preceded by a distractor at its location. This suggests that establishing that an attentionally selected item is a task‐relevant target, rather than an irrelevant distractor, is more demanding at a previously "rejected" distractor location. Our study investigated how spatial statistical learning of a salient distractor affects visual search performance and related electrophysiological mechanisms. We found that statistical learning of spatial information of distractors could facilitate visual search by proactive suppression, but when a target appeared at the previous distractor location, it caused a cost. The statistical learning effect was reflected in the early N1pc/Ppc components, while the short‐term inter‐trial effect was shown in the late SPCN component. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
    • Abstract:
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