Where have we gone wrong? Perceptual load does not affect selective attention

Hanna Benoni, Yehoshua Tsal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The theory of perceptual load (Lavie & Tsal, 1994) proposes that with low load in relevant processing left over resources spill over to process irrelevant distractors. Interference could only be prevented under High-Load Conditions where relevant processing exhausts attentional resources. The theory is based primarily on the finding that distractor interference obtained in low load displays, when the target appears alone, is eliminated in high load displays when it is embedded among neutral letters. However, a possible alternative interpretation of this effect is that the distractor is similarly processed in both displays, yet its interference in the large displays is diluted by the presence of the neutral letters. We separated the possible effects of load and dilution by adding dilution displays that were high in dilution and low in perceptual load. In the first experiment these displays contained as many letters as the high load displays, but their neutral letters were clearly distinguished from the target, thereby allowing for a low load processing mode. In the second experiment we presented identical multicolor displays in the Dilution and High-Load Conditions. However, in the former the target color was known in advance (thereby preserving a low load processing mode) whereas in the latter it was not. In both experiments distractor interference was completely eliminated under the Dilution Condition. Thus, it is dilution not perceptual load affecting distractor processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1292-1298
Number of pages7
JournalVision Research
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jun 2010


  • Dilution
  • Perceptual load
  • Selective attention
  • Visual attention


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