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31-08-2018 | Original Article

A meta-analysis of contingent-capture effects

Psychological Research
Christian Büsel, Martin Voracek, Ulrich Ansorge


The present meta-analyses investigated the widely used contingent-capture protocol. Contingent-capture theory postulates that only top-down matching stimuli capture attention. Evidence comes from the contingent-capture protocol, in which participants search for a predefined target stimulus preceded by a spatial cue. The cue is typically uninformative of the target’s position but either presented at target position (valid condition) or away from the target (invalid condition). The common finding is that seemingly only top-down matching cues capture attention as shown by a selective cueing effect (faster responses in valid than invalid conditions) for cues with a feature similar to the searched-for target only, but not for cues without target-similar feature. The origin of this “contingent-capture effect” is, however, debated. One alternative explanation is that intertrial priming—the priming of attention capture by the cue in a given trial by attending to a feature-similar target in the preceding trial—mediates the contingent-capture effect. Alternatively, the rapid-disengagement account argues that all salient stimuli capture attention initially, but that the disengagement from non-matching cues is rapid. The present meta-analyses shed light on this debate by (a) identifying moderators of the size of reported contingent-capture effects (64 experiments) and (b) analyzing pure (blocked) versus mixed presentation of different targets as well as summarizing results of published intertrial priming studies (12 experiments) in the contingent-capture protocol. We found target-singleton versus non-singleton status and pure versus mixed presentation of different targets to be reliable moderators. Furthermore, results indicated the presence of publication bias. Otherwise, the contingent-capture theory was supported, but we discuss additional factors that must be taken into account for a full account of the results.

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