Surprise, surprise: Two distinct components in the visually evoked distractor effect


  • The authors thank Bruce Bridgeman, Burkhard Brocke, Jens R. Helmert, Robert Langner, Fiona Mulvey, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. We also wish to thank Tilo Wehner and Maria Brüstel for data collection. This research was supported by grants from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (VE 192) and the European Commission (Network of Excellence COGAIN and NEST-Pathfinder PERCEPT).

Address reprint requests to: Sven-Thomas Graupner, Applied Cognitive Research Unit, Institute of Psychology III, Dresden University of Technology, Helmholtzstrasse 10, 01069 Dresden, Germany. E-mail:


The distractor effect is an inhibition of saccades shortly after a sudden visual event. It has been explained both as an oculomotor reflex and as a manifestation of the orienting response. To clarify which explanation is more appropriate, we investigated a possible habituation of this effect. Visual and auditory distractors were presented at gaze-contingent intervals during the perception of meaningful pictures. Both reflexlike and modifiable components were present in the visual distractor effect, with latencies of about 110 and 180 ms, respectively. The influence of visual and auditory distractors on saccades preceded the earliest changes in cortical ERPs. Only for long-term habituation in the visual modality was a correlation with ERPs (N1) found.