Can children suppress attentional capture by salient distractors?


A key debate is whether physically salient objects, such as brightly colored items, have an automatic ability to “capture” visual attention. There is growing evidence that adults are able to suppress attentional capture by salient singletons in favor of the target object (Gaspelin & Luck, 2018). However, the devel- opmental trajectory of this ability is unclear. In children, reaction time has been used to measure the cost of orienting attention to- wards a distractor instead of the target. Studies of classroom dis- tractions, visual search, task switching, and attentional surround suppression showed that children under age nine are unable to successfully inhibit distractors; a reaction time cost is present when distractors are present versus absent (Cepeda et al., 2001; Gaspelin et al, 2015; Hanley et al. 2016; Rodrigues et al. 2018; Wong-Kee-You et al., 2018). However, negative priming studies, in which targets that were previously distractors elicited slower reaction time, suggesting that children as young as four are able to actively suppress distractors (Pritchard & Neumann, 2009). This study investigates whether 5-yr-olds are able to suppress bottom-up attentional capture by a salient distractor. Children searched for a specific target shape amongst different distractor shapes of the same color, and were instructed to ignore a salient color singleton. We will use eye movements to measure attentional capture versus inhibition. This approach has received little use in developmental attentional studies and provides a more direct index of attentional allocation. Children, unlike adults, are expected to be unable to suppress overt attention to the salient singleton.

International Society for Developmental Psychobiology, Chigago, IL