On the time course of top-down and bottom-up control of visual attention

Jan Theeuwes, Paul Atchley, Arthur F. Kramer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research showed that a salient feature singleton captured attention bottom-up (Theeuwes 1991a, 1992, 1994a). A salient color singleton interfered with search for a less salient shape singleton, which suggested that early processing was driven by bottom-up saliency factors. The present experiments examined how bottom-up and top-down processing develops over time. Subjects searched for a shape singleton target and had to ignore a color singleton distractor presented at different stimulus onset asynchronies prior to the search display. The results indicate that when the target and distractor were presented simultaneously, the salient singleton distractor captured attention, whereas when the distractor singleton was presented about 150 msec before the target singleton, the distractor did not disrupt performance. The findings suggest a stimulus-driven model of selection in which early processing is solely driven by bottom-up saliency factors. In later processing, the early bottom-up activation of the distractor can be overridden by top-down attentional control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)104-124
Number of pages21
JournalAttention and Performance
StatePublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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