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Department of Psychology

Staff

Publication details for Dr Daniel Smith

Knight, H.C., Smith, D.T., Knight, D.C. & Ellison, A. (2016). Altering attentional control settings causes persistent biases of visual attention. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 69(1): 129-149.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Attentional control settings have an important role in guiding visual behaviour. Previous work within cognitive psychology has found that the deployment of general attentional control settings can be modulated by training. However, research has not yet established whether long-term modifications of one particular type of attentional control setting can be induced. To address this, we investigated persistent alterations to feature search mode, also known as an attentional bias, towards an arbitrary stimulus in healthy participants. Subjects were biased towards the colour green by an information sheet. Attentional bias was assessed using a change detection task. After an interval of either 1 or 2 weeks, participants were then retested on the same change detection task, tested on a different change detection task where colour was irrelevant, or were biased towards an alternative colour. One experiment included trials in which the distractor stimuli (but never the target stimuli) were green. The key finding was that green stimuli in the second task attracted attention, despite this impairing task performance. Furthermore, inducing a second attentional bias did not override the initial bias toward green objects. The attentional bias also persisted for at least two weeks. It is argued that this persistent attentional bias is mediated by a chronic change to participants’ attentional control settings, which is aided by long-term representations involving contextual cueing. We speculate that similar changes to attentional control settings and continuous cueing may relate to attentional biases observed in psychopathologies. Targeting these biases may be a productive approach to treatment.