Personally-significant information affects performance only within the focus of attention: A direct manipulation of attention

Assaf Breska, Moran Israel, Keren Maoz, Asher Cohen, Gershon Ben-Shakhar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It has been suggested that personally significant (PS) information interferes with performance only when presented within the focus of attention. However, this claim was never tested by a systematic manipulation of attention, but only by using correlative measures of its locus. We addressed this issue in two experiments, utilizing a cued visual search paradigm that allowed us to directly manipulate attention and to measure behavioral and physiological responses. One of the stimuli in the search display had a higher luminance value (i. e., was cued), and, orthogonally, one of the stimuli could be a PS or neutral name. When the cue did not predict target location, PS distractors mildly interfered with task performance, regardless of the cue's location. However, when the cue predicted target location, responses were facilitated for cued targets, indicating that attention was shifted to the cue. Importantly, PS distractors interfered with task performance and elicited enhanced orienting responses only when they were cued. This implies that PS information affects performance only when presented within but not outside the focus of attention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1754-1767
Number of pages14
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by grants from the Israel Science Foundation to G.B.S. and A.C. We thank Ori Cohen, Noa Erlich, Arit Gliksohn, Michal Preiss, and Maya Zuckerman for their assistance in this research.


  • Attention
  • Luminance
  • Orienting response
  • Personally significant stimuli
  • Skin conductance response
  • Task interference
  • Visual search


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