Document Type


Publication Date


Journal / Book Title

Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics


Four experiments are reported in which 60 younger children (7–8 years old), 60 older children (10–11 years old), and 60 young adults (18–25 years old) performed a conjunctive visual search task (15 per group in each experiment). The number of distractors of each feature type was unbalanced across displays to evaluate participants’ ability to restrict search to the smaller subset of features. The use of top-down attention processes to restrict search was encouraged by providing external aids for identifying and maintaining attention on the smaller set. In Experiment 1, no external assistance was provided. In Experiment 2, precues and instructions were provided to focus attention on that subset. In Experiment 3, trials in which the smaller subset was represented by the same feature were presented in alternating blocks to eliminate the need to switch attention between features from trial to trial. In Experiment 4, consecutive blocks of the same subset features were presented in the first or second half of the experiment, providing additional consistency. All groups benefited from external support of top-down attention, although the pattern of improvement varied across experiments. The younger children benefited most from precues and instruction, using the subset search strategy when instructed. Furthermore, younger children benefited from blocking trials only when blocks of the same features did not alternate. Older participants benefited from the blocking of trials in both Experiments 3 and 4, but not from precues and instructions. Hence, our results revealed both malleability and limits of children’s top-down control of attention.



Published Citation

Lookadoo, R., Yang, Y., & Merrill, E. C. (2017). Encouraging top-down attention in visual search: A developmental perspective. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 79(7), 2007-2020.

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