Alerting enhances attentional bias for salient stimuli: Evidence from a global/local processing task

Noam Weinbach, Avishai Henik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study examined the role of alerting in modulating attentional bias to salient events. In a global/local processing task, participants were presented with a large arrow (global level) comprised of smaller arrows (local level) pointing in the same or opposite directions and had to indicate the direction of the large or small arrows in different blocks. Saliency of the global and local levels was manipulated, creating global-salient and local-salient conditions. Alerting signals were presented in half of the trials prior to the target. Results revealed a double dissociation in the effects of alerting on global/local interference effects. In a global salient condition, alerting increased global interference and decreased local interference. In a local salient condition, alerting reduced global interference and increased local interference. We demonstrate that within a single task, alerting can increase and reduce conflict based on perceptual saliency. These findings help to better understand disorders like hemispatial neglect in which both arousal and attention to salient events are impaired. These results also challenge previous theories suggesting that alerting acts to increase conflict interference. We argue that alerting is an adaptive mechanism that diverts attention to salient events, but comes at a cost when selective attention to less salient details is required.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)414-419
Number of pages6
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier B.V.


  • Global/local processing
  • Phasic alerting
  • Phasic arousal
  • Saliency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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