Visual attention enables an observer to select specific visual information for processing. In an ambiguous motion task in which a coloured grating can be perceived as moving in either of two opposite directions depending on the relative salience of two colours in the display, attending to one of the colours influences the direction in which the grating appears to move. Here, we use this secondary effect of attention in a motion task to measure the effect of attending to a specific colour in a search task. Observers performed a search task in which they searched for a target letter in a 4 × 4 coloured matrix. Each of the 16 squares within a matrix was assigned one of four colours, and observers knew that the target letter would appear on only one of these colours throughout the experiment. Observers performed the ambiguous motion task before and after the search task. Attending to a particular colour for a brief period in the search task profoundly influenced the perceived direction of motion. This effect lasted for up to one month and in some cases had to be reversed by practising searches for the complementary colour, indicating a much longer-persisting effect of attention than has been observed previously.
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