The role of timing in the attentional boost effect

Khena M. Swallow, Yuhong V. Jiang

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    69 Scopus citations


    Images that are presented with targets of an unrelated detection task are better remembered than images that are presented with distractors (the attentional boost effect). The likelihood that any of three mechanisms, attentional cuing, prediction-based reinforcement learning, and perceptual grouping, underlies this effect depends in part on how it is modulated by the relative timing of the target and image. Three experiments demonstrated that targets and images must overlap in time for the enhancement to occur; targets that appear 100 ms before or 100 ms after the image without temporally overlapping with it do not enhance memory of the image. However, targets and images need not be synchronized. A fourth experiment showed that temporal overlap of the image and target is not sufficient, as detecting targets did not enhance the processing of task-irrelevant images. These experiments challenge several simple accounts of the attentional boost effect based on attentional cuing, reinforcement learning, and perceptual grouping.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)389-404
    Number of pages16
    JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Feb 2011

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    This research was funded in part by NIH 071788 and the Institute for Research in Marketing at the University of Minnesota. We thank Tal Makovski for comments, and Jennifer Decker, Kathryn Hecht, Sui Lau, Erin Crawford, Heather Vandenheuvel, Leah Watson, Marie McDougall, and Ben Kline for help with data collection.


    • Attention
    • Dual-task performance
    • Memory
    • Perception


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