Inter-trial inhibition of attention to features is modulated by task relevance

Brian R. Levinthal, Alejandro Lleras

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Distractor Previewing Effect (DPE) is an inter-trial effect that arises in efficient visual searches where participants are asked to find a feature oddball in the display. Specifically, the DPE is the finding that an observer's ability to focus on an oddball target is impaired if, on the immediately preceding trial, no target was present and all distractors shared a visual feature with the current target (e.g., all objects were red on trial N, and the target was a red oddball on trial N + 1). Though recent evidence suggests that the DPE emerges from an attentional bias against focusing on a recently examined feature common to all stimuli in a target-absent trial, it is unclear whether this inhibition is formed for all features in target-absent trials, or is instead limited to the search-relevant feature. In two experiments we manipulated task instructions while keeping displays identical, alternating which feature (shape or color) was relevant for the search task and which was not. Our results showed that attentional inhibition is applied only to the search-relevant feature. Additionally we found that although search-irrelevant features affect search times, these effects are independent of any relationship to the previous trial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number15
StatePublished - Nov 17 2008


  • Attention
  • Attentional set
  • Inter-trial inhibition
  • Top-down modulation
  • Visual search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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