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We used a probe dot procedure to examine the time course of attention in preview search (Watson & Humphreys, 1997). Participants searched for an outline red vertical bar among other new red horizontal bars and old green vertical bars, superimposed on a blue background grid. Following the reaction time response for search, the participants had to decide whether a probe dot had briefly been presented. Previews appeared for 1,000 msec and were immediately followed by search displays. In Experiment 1, we demonstrated a standard preview benefit relative to a conjunction search baseline. In Experiment 2, search was combined with the probe task. Probes were more difficult to detect when they were presented 1,200 msec, relative to 800 msec, after the preview, but at both intervals detection of probes at the locations of old distractors was harder than detection on new distractors or at neutral locations. Experiment 3A demonstrated that there was no difference in the detection of probes at old, neutral, and new locations when probe detection was the primary task and there was also no difference when all of the shapes appeared simultaneously in conjunction search (Experiment 3B). In a final experiment (Experiment 4), we demonstrated that detection on old items was facilitated (relative to neutral locations and probes at the locations of new distractors) when the probes appeared 200 msec after previews, whereas there was worse detection on old items when the probes followed 800 msec after previews. We discuss the results in terms of visual marking and attention capture processes in visual search.

Original publication




Journal article


Percept Psychophys

Publication Date





713 - 730


Adolescent, Adult, Attention, Female, Fixation, Ocular, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Reaction Time, Signal Detection, Psychological, Visual Perception