Attention Is Spontaneously Biased Toward Regularities

Jiaying Zhao, Naseem Al-Aidroos, Nicholas B. Turk-Browne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

193 Scopus citations


Knowledge about regularities in the environment can be used to facilitate perception, memory, and language acquisition. Given this usefulness, we hypothesized that statistically structured sources of information receive attentional priority over noisier sources, independent of their intrinsic salience or goal relevance. We report three experiments that support this hypothesis. Experiment 1 shows that regularities bias spatial attention: Visual search was facilitated at a location containing temporal regularities, even though these regularities did not predict target location, timing, or identity. Experiments 2 and 3 show that regularities bias feature attention: Attentional capture doubled in magnitude when singletons appeared, respectively, in a color or dimension with temporal regularities among task-irrelevant stimuli. Prioritization of the locations and features of regularities is not easily accounted for in the conventional dichotomy between stimulus-driven and goal-directed attention. This prioritization may in turn promote further statistical learning, helping the mind to acquire knowledge about stable aspects of the environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)667-677
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • attentional capture
  • cognitive control
  • feature-based attention
  • spatial attention
  • statistical learning
  • visual search


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