According to some models of visual selective attention, objects in a scene activate corresponding neural representations, which compete for perceptual awareness and motor behavior. During a visual search for a target object, top-down control exerted by working memory representations of the target's defining properties resolves competition in favor of the target. These models, however, ignore the existence of associative links among object representations. Here we show that such associations can strongly influence deployment of attention in humans. In the context of visual search, objects associated with the target were both recalled more often and recognized more accurately than unrelated distractors. Notably, both target and associated objects competitively weakened recognition of unrelated distractors and slowed responses to a luminance probe. Moreover, in a speeded search protocol, associated objects rendered search both slower and less accurate. Finally, the first saccades after onset of the stimulus array were more often directed toward associated than control items.
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