Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology
Frequent target stimuli are detected more rapidly than infrequent ones. Here, we examined whether the frequency effect reflected durable attentional biases toward frequent target features, and whether the effect was confined to featural properties that defined the target. Participants searched for two specific target colors among distractors of heterogeneous colors and reported the line orientation of the target. The target was more often in one specific feature (e.g., a specific color or a specific orientation) than another in a training phase. This frequency difference was removed or reversed in a testing phase. Experiments 1 and 2 showed that when frequency differences were introduced to the target's defining feature, participants more rapidly found the high-frequency target than the low-frequency target. However, changes in attention were not durable—the search advantage vanished immediately when the frequency differences were removed. Experiments 3–5 showed that only featural properties that defined the target facilitated search of the more frequent feature. Features that did not define the target, such as the target feature that participants reported, sped up response but did not facilitate search. These data showed that when searching for multiple targets in a feature search task, people selectively and rapidly adapt to the frequency in the target's defining feature.