Spatial cueing effects do not always index attentional capture: evidence for a priority accumulation framework

Maya Darnell, Dominique Lamy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The spatial cueing paradigm is a popular tool to investigate under what conditions irrelevant objects capture attention against the observer’s intention. In this paradigm, finding better visual search performance when the target appears at the location of an irrelevant cue is taken to indicate that this cue summoned attention to its location, before the search display appeared. Here, we provide evidence challenging this canonical interpretation of spatial-cueing (or cue-validity) effects and supporting the priority accumulation framework (PAF). According to PAF, the cue can bias attention but such bias takes effect only when the relevant context for selection (the search display) appears: attentional priority accumulates over time at each location until the search context triggers selection of the location that has accumulated the highest priority. We used a spatial-cueing paradigm with abruptly onset cues and search displays varying in target–distractor similarity. We found that search performance on valid-cue trials deteriorates the more difficult the search (Experiment 1), and showed that this finding is explained by PAF but cannot be accommodated within the standard interpretation of spatial-cueing effects (Experiment 2). Finally, we assessed the priority accumulated at each location by using a combination of the spatial-cueing and dot-probe paradigms (Experiment 3). We showed that the similarity of the cued object to the target modulates probe detection performance, a finding that is at odds with the standard interpretation of cueing effects and supports PAF’s predictions. We discuss the implications of the findings in resolving existing controversies on the determinants of attentional priority.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1547-1564
Number of pages18
JournalPsychological Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2022


FundersFunder number
United States - Israel Binational Science Foundation
Israel Science Foundation1286/16


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