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06-08-2015 | Original Article | Uitgave 6/2016

Psychological Research 6/2016

Attention to future actions: the influence of instructed S-R versus S-S mappings on attentional control

Psychological Research > Uitgave 6/2016
Helen Tibboel, Baptist Liefooghe, Jan De Houwer


Even though there is ample evidence that planning future actions plays a role in attentional processing (e.g., Downing Visual Cognition 11:689–703, 2000; Soto et al., Trends in Cognitive Sciences 12:248–342, 2008), it is not clear to what extent planning in itself (rather than the prior experience of the planned actions) controls attention. We suggest that attention can be biased towards stimuli that are associated with instructions for tasks that will be performed in the future even if those tasks have not yet been experienced. We performed two experiments in which participants receive instructions in which some objects were associated with a response (i.e., instructed S-R objects; “Experiment 1”) or a stimulus property (i.e., instructed S-S objects; “Experiment 2”), whereas control objects were not. However, before participants were required to perform the S-R task (“Experiment 1”) or perform an S-S memory task (“Experiment 2”), they performed a visual probe task in which target objects and control objects served as irrelevant cues. Our results show that attention was biased towards the S-R objects (compared to control stimuli) but not to S-S objects. These findings suggest that future plans can bias attention toward specific stimuli, but only when these stimuli are associated with a specific action. We discuss these findings in light of research concerning automatic effects of instructions and theories that view attention as a selection-for-action mechanism.

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