Short article: Distractor interference in focused attention tasks is not mediated by attention capture

Nurit Gronau*, Asher Cohen, Gershon Ben-Shakhar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Distractor stimuli possessing information that is relevant for a task (henceforth, task-relevant distractors) often interfere with task performance. The interference by task-relevant distractors is observed even when distractors are positioned outside the main attentional focus. We investigated whether such interference is due to an attention capture by the distractors. Participants responded to a target colour while ignoring word distractors positioned within (Experiment 1) or outside (Experiments 2 and 3) the attentional focus. The words carried task-relevant information in their colour and personally significant information in their content. Because personally significant information affects performance only when positioned in an attended region, it was used as a marker for the locus of the attentional focus. As expected, when distractors were attended, both task-relevant and personally significant information affected performance. However, when distractors were unattended, only task-relevant information caused interference, suggesting that attention did not shift to the distractors' location. We discuss possible accounts for interference effects in focused-attention tasks.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1685-1695
Number of pages11
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 19 Sep 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Correspondence should be addressed to Nurit Gronau, The Department of Psychology, The Open University of Israel, 108 Ravutski St., Raanana, Israel. E-mail: [email protected] This research was funded by grants from the Israel Science Foundation to Gershon Ben Shakhar and to Asher Cohen. We thank Hadas Gutman, Moran Israel, Assaf Breska, and Ori Cohen for their assistance in this research. We also thank Holger Mitterer and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


  • Attention capture
  • Attention gradient
  • Focused attention


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