Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics 78 (2016), pp 2152–2163.

doi 10.3758/s13414-016-1145-0


Copyright © 2016 The Psychonomic Society, Inc. Published by Springer. Used by permission.


Spatial symbols can generate attentional biases toward peripheral locations compatible with the symbol’s meaning. An important question concerns how one symbol is selected when competing symbols are present. Studies examining this issue for spatially distinct symbols have suggested that selection depends on the task goals. In the present study, we examined whether the influence of competing symbolic stimuli (arrows) at different levels of structure on attentional control also depends on the task goals. Participants made simple detection responses to a peripheral target preceded by a spatially uninformative compound arrow (global arrow composed of local arrows). In addition, participants were required to perform a secondary task in which they matched the orientation of the global arrow (global task) or the location of a uniquely colored local arrow (local task) to a test display presented immediately following a detection response. When the global and local arrows pointed at opposite locations, a local cueing effect emerged in the local task, and a global cueing effect in the global task, indicating that the task goals influenced the selection of the level of structure. However, when the local level was spatially neutral (global arrow, local rectangles), a cueing effect was observed independent of task, and when the global level was spatially neutral (global rectangle, local arrows), a cueing effect was observed in the local task only, suggesting that global processing was obligatory and local processing optional. These findings suggest that attentional effects triggered by the global level are more strongly reflexive than those triggered by the local level.

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