Visual flicker in the gamma-band range does not draw attention.
ABSTRACT External transients, such as a flash or a startling sound, are believed to capture attention. Bauer, Cheadle, Parton, Müller, and Usher reported that attention can also be captured by a stimulus that flickers subliminally at 50 Hz, presumably by entrainment of neurons to the flicker frequency. In their reaction time (RT) task, participants had to locate a subtle change in the spatial frequency content of one of three Gabors (the target). Prior to target onset, presumably subliminal 50-Hz flicker in one of the Gabors served as a spatial cue. Bauer et al. found faster RTs when the cued location was congruent with the target location than when the cue was incongruent with the target location. In their experiments, the cue stopped to flicker at 50 Hz at target onset and was replaced by a stimulus flickering at 100 Hz (i.e., the screen refresh rate). In the present study, we show that the transition from 50 to 100 Hz results in a flash-like impression that can be localized above chance. We suggest that the illusory transition flash interfered with the localization of the subtle target, which contributed to the congruency effect. In support of this view, participants selected the flickering object more often than the non-flickering object when they failed to respond to the target. Further, no cueing effects were observed when the cue continued to flicker until the end of the trial or when the target was a salient change in polarity. In our view, the cueing effect occurs because observers confuse the illusory transition flash with the target when the two are similar. When truly subliminal flicker is used (70-Hz flicker), very small cueing effects persist in the absence of an illusory transition flash but may be accounted for by small effects on reaction time unrelated to attention.