When Does Visual Attention Select All Features of a Distractor?
What happens after visual attention is allocated to an object? Although many theories of attention assume that all of its features are selected and processed, there has been little direct evidence that an irrelevant feature dimension of an attended nontarget is processed. In 5 experiments presented here, the authors used a singleton paradigm to investigate the effect of attention on nontarget objects. Participants made a speeded feature discrimination of a target for which the response was either compatible or incompatible with an irrelevant feature dimension of a distractor. The results show that the irrelevant distractor features were processed to the point that they interfered with the response to the target. The response compatibility effect was observed even when the location of the target or the distractor was invariant, although it was much weaker when both locations were invariant. These results demonstrate that in many circumstances, an attended distractor is completely selected and fully processed, and the complete processing of distractors depends on a number of factors, many of which are related to the strength of attention to the distractor.