In two experiments, we tested whether subliminal abrupt onset cues capture attention in a stimulus-driven way. An onset cue was presented 16 ms prior to the stimulus display that consisted of clearly visible color targets. The onset cue was presented either at the same side as the target (the valid cue condition) or on the opposite side of the target (the invalid cue condition). Because the onset cue was presented 16 ms before other placeholders were presented, the cue was subliminal to the participant. To ensure that this subliminal cue captured attention in a stimulus-driven way, the cue’s features did not match the top-down attentional control settings of the participants: (1) The color of the cue was always different than the color of the non-singleton targets ensuring that a top-down set for a specific color or for a singleton would not match the cue, and (2) colored targets and distractors had the same objective luminance (measured by the colorimeter) and subjective lightness (measured by flicker photometry), preventing a match between the top-down set for target and cue contrast. Even though a match between the cues and top-down settings was prevented, in both experiments, the cues captured attention, with faster response times in valid than invalid cue conditions (Experiments 1 and 2) and faster response times in valid than the neutral conditions (Experiment 2). The results support the conclusion that subliminal cues capture attention in a stimulus-driven way.
- Attention capture
- Subliminal perception