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Memory precision for salient distractors decreases with learned suppression


Attention operates as a cognitive gate that selects sensory information for entry into memory and awareness (Driver, 2001, British Journal of Psychology, 92, 53-78). Under many circumstances, the selected information is task-relevant and important to remember, but sometimes perceptually salient nontarget objects will capture attention and enter into awareness despite their irrelevance (Adams & Gaspelin, 2020, Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 82[4], 1586-1598). Recent studies have shown that repeated exposures with salient distractor will diminish their ability to capture attention, but the relationship between suppression and later cognitive processes such as memory and awareness remains unclear. If learned attentional suppression (indicated by reduced capture costs) occurs at the sensory level and prevents readout to other cognitive processes, one would expect memory and awareness to dimmish commensurate with improved suppression. Here, we test this hypothesis by measuring memory precision and awareness of salient nontargets over repeated exposures as capture costs decreased. Our results show that stronger learned suppression is accompanied by reductions in memory precision and confidence in having seen a color singleton at all, suggesting that such suppression operates at the sensory level to prevent further processing of the distractor object.

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