White bear everywhere: Exploring the boundaries of the attentional white bear phenomenon

Aya Lahav, Tal Makovski, Yehoshua Tsal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Some failures of selective attention may be explained by the attentional white bear (AWB) phenomenon Tsal & Makovski (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 32:351-363, 2006), which indicates that prior knowledge of a distractor location causes attention to be actively allocated to it. The AWB effect is demonstrated in a task that includes infrequent trials that involve two simultaneous dots embedded among flanker trials. The dot positioned at an expected distractor location is perceived as appearing before the dot at an expected empty location, indicating that attentional resources have initially been allocated to the expected distractor locations. The main goal of this study was to explore the boundaries of the AWB phenomenon by imposing perceptual, memory, and sensory constraints on the flanker task. The results showed that the AWB effect was obtained even when additional constraints severely taxed the information-processing system. We propose that a mandatory mechanism guides a fixed minimal amount of attention to expected distractor locations in a top-down manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)661-673
Number of pages13
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Attentional white bear effect
  • Distractor inhibition
  • Distractor processing
  • Flanker task
  • Selective attention
  • Temporal order judgment
  • Visual attention


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