Remote distractor effects in saccadic, manual and covert attention tasks
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The Remote Distractor Effect (RDE) is a robust phenomenon where a saccade to a lateralised target is delayed by the appearance of a distractor in the contralateral hemifield (Walker, Kentridge, & Findlay, 1995). The main aim of this thesis was to test whether the RDE generalises to response modalities other then the eyes. In Chapter 2, the RDE was tested on saccadic and simple manual keypress responses, and on a choice discrimination task requiring a covert shift of attention. The RDE was observed for saccades, but not simple manual responses, suggesting that spatially oriented responses may be necessary for the phenomenon. However, it was unclear whether distractor interference occurred in the covert task. Chapter 4 compared the effects of distractors between spatially equivalent tasks requiring saccadic and manual aiming responses respectively. Again, the RDE was observed for the eyes but not for the hands. This dissociation was also replicated in a more naturalistic task in which participants were free to move their eyes during manual aiming. In order to examine the time-course of distractor effects for the eyes and the hands, a third experiment investigated distractor effects across a wider range of target-distractor delays, finding no RDE for manual aiming responses at distractor delays of 0, 100, or 150 ms. The failure of the RDE to generalise to manual aiming suggests that target selection mechanisms are not shared between hand and eye movements. Chapter 5 further investigated the role of distractors during covert discrimination. The first experiment showed that distractor appearance did not interfere with discrimination performance. A second experiment, in which participants were also asked to saccade toward the target, confirmed the lack of RDE for covert discrimination while saccades were slower in distractor trials. The dissociation between covert and overt orienting suggests important differences between shifts of covert attention and preparation of eye movements. Finally, Chapter 6 investigated the mechanism driving the RDE. In particular it was assessed whether saccadic inhibition (Reingold & Stampe, 2002) is responsible for the increase in saccadic latency induced by remote distractors. Examination of the distributions of saccadic latencies at different distractor delays showed that each distractor produced a discrete dip in saccadic frequency, time-locked to distractor onset, conforming closely to the character of saccadic inhibition. It is concluded that saccadic inhibition underlies the remote distractor effect.