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Search for a colour-form conjunction target can be facilitated by presenting one set of distractors prior to the second set of distractors and the target: the preview benefit (Watson & Humphreys, 1997). The early presentation of one set of distractors enables them to be efficiently filtered from search. We report two studies investigating the time course of the preview benefit. In Experiment 1 we use a standard reaction time analysis to show that the benefit has a relatively slow time course; old items need to precede the new set by 600 ms or more in order to be fully filtered from search. Furthermore, the reductions in reaction time across time in the preview condition varied nonlinearly with the display size, suggesting that old items were discounted from search in parallel. In Experiment 2 we examined the neural locus of this filtering effect over time, using positron emission tomography (PET). We show that regions of parieto-occipital cortex are selectively activated in a preview search condition relative to a detection baseline. These regions also increase in activation as the preview interval increases (and search then becomes easier), consistent with them modulating the parallel filtering of distractors from targets in spatial search. Interestingly, the same areas as those activated in preview search were also active in conjunction search relative to its own detection baseline. Thus these regions either modulate parallel filtering in conjunction search too, or they modulate different behavioural functions according to task constraints.

Original publication




Journal article


Q J Exp Psychol A

Publication Date





610 - 635


Adult, Choice Behavior, Female, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Occipital Lobe, Parietal Lobe, Reaction Time, Space Perception, Tomography, Emission-Computed, Visual Perception