Response, Rather Than Target Detection, Triggers the Attentional Boost Effect in Visual Search

Yi Ni Toh, Vanessa G. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Detecting a target in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) stream is more attentionally demanding than rejecting a distractor. However, background scenes coinciding with RSVP targets are better remembered than those coinciding with RSVP distractors, a paradoxical finding known as the attentional boost effect. But does the effect originate from the detection of the RSVP target or from the need to respond to it? To dissociate target detection from response, we investigated the attentional boost effect using a visual search task. Participants searched for a target among distractors while memorizing concurrently presented background objects. The search target could be present or absent. In different experiments, participants pressed a button on target-present trials only, target-absent trials only, or made a two-choice present/absent response. Results showed that objects paired with a Go response were better remembered than objects paired with a No-Go response, regardless of whether responses were associated with targetpresent or target-absent trials. This finding was replicated in experiments that required covert counting rather than an immediate button press response. These findings are the first to extend the attentional boost effect to visual search and demonstrate that the need to respond, not the detection of a search target, drives the effect for concurrently presented stimuli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-93
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported in part by a University of Minnesota graduate research award. We thank Caitlin Sisk, Roger Remington, and Linden Lee for edits and comments to the article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Psychological Association


  • Attention for action
  • Dual-task interference
  • Temporal orienting
  • The attentional boost effect
  • Visual search

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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