Psychological Research

, Volume 83, Issue 5, pp 1070–1082 | Cite as

Ironic capture: top-down expectations exacerbate distraction in visual search

  • Greg HuffmanEmail author
  • Jason Rajsic
  • Jay Pratt
Original Article


Ironic processing refers to the phenomenon where attempting to resist doing something results in a person doing that very thing. Here, we report three experiments investigating the role of ironic processing in visual search. In Experiment 1, we informed observers that they could predict the location of a salient color singleton in a visual search task and found that response times were slower in that condition than in a condition where the singleton’s location was random. Experiment 2 used the same experimental design but did not inform participants of the color singleton’s behavior. Experiment 3 showed that the cost in the predictable condition was not due to dual task costs or block order effects and participants attempting to use the strategy showed a larger cost in the predictable condition than those who abandoned using that location foreknowledge. In this case, responses in the predictable color singleton condition were equivalent with the random color singleton condition. This suggests that having more knowledge about an upcoming, salient distractor ironically increases its interfering influence on performance.


Compliance with ethical standards


This project was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, in form of a discovery grant to Jay Pratt and a Postgraduate Scholarship-Doctoral to Jason Rajsic.

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

All participants provided informed consent before participating in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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