Distinct Mechanisms for Distractor Suppression and Target Facilitation.
Noonan MP., Adamian N., Pike A., Printzlau F., Crittenden BM., Stokes MG.
UNLABELLED: It is well established that preparatory attention improves processing of task-relevant stimuli. Although it is often more important to ignore task-irrelevant stimuli, comparatively little is known about preparatory attentional mechanisms for inhibiting expected distractions. Here, we establish that distractor inhibition is not under the same top-down control as target facilitation. Using a variant of the Posner paradigm, participants were cued to either the location of a target stimulus, the location of a distractor, or were provided no predictive information. In Experiment 1, we found that participants were able to use target-relevant cues to facilitate target processing in both blocked and flexible conditions, but distractor cueing was only effective in the blocked version of the task. In Experiment 2, we replicate these findings in a larger sample and leveraged the additional statistical power to perform individual differences analyses to tease apart potential underlying mechanisms. We found no evidence for a correlation between these two types of benefit, suggesting that flexible target cueing and distractor suppression depend on distinct cognitive mechanisms. In Experiment 3, we use EEG to show that preparatory distractor suppression is associated with a diminished P1, but we found no evidence to suggest that this effect was mediated by top-down control of oscillatory activity in the alpha band (8-12 Hz). We conclude that flexible top-down mechanisms of cognitive control are specialized for target-related attention, whereas distractor suppression only emerges when the predictive information can be derived directly from experience. This is consistent with a predictive coding model of expectation suppression. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: If you were told to ignore a white bear, you might find it quite difficult. Holding something in working memory is thought to automatically facilitate feature processing, even if doing so is detrimental to the current task. Despite this paradox, it is often assumed that distractor suppression is controlled via similar top-down mechanisms of attention that prepare brain areas for target enhancement. In particular, low-frequency oscillations in visual cortex appear especially well suited for gating task-irrelevant information. We describe the results of a series of studies exploring distractor suppression and challenge this popular notion. We draw on behavioral and EEG evidence to show that selective distractor suppression operates via an alternative mechanism, such as expectation suppression within a predictive coding framework.