Three experiments were conducted to investigate whether surprising color singletons capture attention. Participants performed a visual search task in which a target letter had to be detected among distractor letters. Experiments 1 and 2 assessed accuracy as the dependent variable. In Experiment 1, the unannounced presentation of a color singleton 500 ms prior to the letters (and in the same position as the target letter) resulted in better performance than in the preceding conjunction search segment, in which no singleton was presented, and performance was as good in this surprise-singleton trial as in the following feature search segment, in which the singleton always coincided with the target. In contrast, no improvement was observed when the color singleton was presented simultaneously with the letters in Experiment 2, indicating that attentional capture occurred later in the surprise trial than in the feature search segment. In Experiment 3, set size was varied, and reaction time was the dependent variable. Reaction time depended on set size in the conjunction search segment, but not in the surprise trial nor in the feature search segment. The results of the three experiments support the view that surprising color singletons capture attention independently of a corresponding attentional set.
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