Object-based control of attention is sensitive to recent experience

Hyunkyu Lee, Michael C. Mozer, Arthur F. Kramer, Shaun P. Vecera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How is attention guided by past experience? In visual search, numerous studies have shown that recent trials influence responses to the current trial. Repeating features such as color, shape, or location of a target facilitates performance. Here we examine whether recent experience also modulates a more abstract dimension of attentional control, object-based and location-based control. Participants performed a cued target discrimination task with stimuli presented on 2 rectangles. Response times to targets appearing in an uncued location on a cued rectangle were faster than to targets on the uncued rectangle, demonstrating an object-based attentional benefit. We investigated the object-based benefit on the current trial contingent on the cue-target relationship on the previous trial. The object-based benefit was significant only when the cued object contained the target on the previous trial, not when the uncued object contained the target. This effect of recent experience was not due to either the repetition of spatial cue-target location or the repetition of the response, but to adaptation to contingencies in the environment. Our results suggest a unifying view of attentional control that spans the concrete dimensions of control (e.g., determining the relative importance of red vs. blue) to the abstract (determining the relative importance of objects vs. locations in space). Attention closely tracks the short time scale structure of the environment and automatically adapts to optimize performance to this structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)314-325
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2012


  • Adaptation
  • Control setting
  • Object-based attention
  • Recent experience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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