Negative versus positive priming: When are distractors inhibited?

Stefan Van der Stigchel, Martijn Meeter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Visual attention is guided by the history of selections in previous trials, an effect usually referred to as intertrial priming. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether such priming in visual search is due to a strengthening of the target signal, or the suppression of the distractor signal. In two experiments, we examined the deviation of saccade endpoints in situations in which the target and distractors were presented in relative close proximity. We found both negative and positive priming, irrespective of whether the repeating feature
was relevant or irrelevant. This finding is in contrast to previous results with this paradigm, based on which we concluded that visual priming is strictly the result of boosting perceptual target signals. Based on the differences between these experiments, we conclude that the number of distractors is essential in observing negative priming. We propose that negative priming is solely observed when multiple distractors result in either strong inhibition of distractor features, or strong adaptation to them. Whereas positive priming seems to be a robust mechanism, negative priming is only present if there are multiple distractors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-13
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Eye Movement Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2017


  • Intertrial priming
  • saccades
  • negative priming
  • positive priming
  • visual search


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