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Rapid Attentional Selection of Non-native Stimuli despite Perceptual Narrowing


Visual experiences increase our ability to discriminate environmentally relevant stimuli (native stimuli, e.g., human faces) at the cost of a reduced sensitivity to irrelevant or infrequent stimuli (non-native stimuli, e.g., monkey/ape faces)-a developmental progression known as perceptual narrowing. One possible source of the reduced sensitivity in distinguishing non-native stimuli (e.g., one ape face vs. another ape face) could be underspecified attentional search templates (i.e., working memory representations). To determine whether perceptual narrowing stems from underspecified attentional templates for non-native exemplars, this study used ERP (the N2pc component) and behavioral measures in a visual search task, where the target was either an exemplar (e.g., a specific ape face) or a category (e.g., any ape face). The N2pc component, an ERP marker of early attentional selection emerging at 200 msec poststimulus, is typically modulated by the specificity of the target and, therefore, by the attentional template-the N2pc is larger for specific items versus categories. In two experiments using both human and ape faces (i.e., native and non-native stimuli), we found that perceptual narrowing affects later response selection (i.e., manual RT and accuracy), but not early attentional selection relying on attentional templates (i.e., the N2pc component). Our ERP results show that adults deploy exemplar level attentional templates for non-native stimuli (as well as native stimuli), despite poor downstream behavioral performance. Our findings suggest that long-term previous experience with reduced exemplar level judgments (i.e., perceptual narrowing) does not appear to eliminate early attentional selection of non-native exemplars.

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