Attentional selection in humans is mostly determined by what is important to them or by the saliency of the objects around them. How our visual and attentional system manage these various sources of attentional capture is one of the most intensely debated issues in cognitive psychology. Along with the traditional dichotomy of goal-driven and stimulus-driven theories, newer frameworks such as reward learning and selection history have been proposed as well to understand how a stimulus captures attention. However, surprisingly little is known about the different forms of attentional control by information that is not consciously accessible to us. In this article, we will review several studies that have examined attentional capture by subliminal cues. We will specifically focus on spatial cuing studies that have shown through response times and eye movements that subliminal cues can affect attentional selection. A majority of these studies have argued that attentional capture by subliminal cues is entirely automatic and stimulus-driven. We will evaluate their claims of automaticity and contrast them with a few other studies that have suggested that orienting to unconscious cues proceeds in a manner that is contingent with the top-down goals of the individual. Resolving this debate has consequences for understanding the depths and the limits of unconscious processing. It has implications for general theories of attentional selection as well. In this review, we aim to provide the current status of research in this domain and point out open questions and future directions.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited