Great expectations: Top-down attention modulates the costs of clutter and eccentricity

Kelly Steelman-Allen, Jason McCarley, Christopher Wickens

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    17 Citations (Scopus)


    An experiment and modeling effort examined interactions between bottom-up and top-down attentional control in visual alert detection. Participants performed a manual tracking task while monitoring peripheral display channels for alerts of varying salience, eccentricity, and spatial expectancy. Spatial expectancy modulated the influence of salience and eccentricity; alerts in low-probability locations engendered higher miss rates, longer detection times, and larger costs of visual clutter and eccentricity, indicating that top-down attentional control offset the costs of poor bottom-up stimulus quality. Data were compared to the predictions of a computational model of scanning and noticing that incorporates bottom-up and top-down sources of attentional control. The model accounted well for the overall pattern of miss rates and response times, predicting each of the observed main effects and interactions. Empirical results suggest that designers should expect the costs of poor bottom-up visibility to be greater for low expectancy signals, and that the placement of alerts within a display should be determined based on the combination of alert expectancy and response priority. Model fits suggest that the current model can serve as a useful tool for exploring a design space as a precursor to empirical data collection and for generating hypotheses for future experiments.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)403-419
    Number of pages17
    JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


    • Display design
    • Eccentricity
    • Expectancy
    • Models of attention
    • Salience
    • Top-down control
    • Visual attention


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