Attentional capture for distractors is enhanced by increasing the difficulty of discrimination between the standard and the target in the three-stimulus oddball paradigm. In this study, we investigated the cognitive mechanism of this modulation of attentional capture. Event-related brain potentials were recorded from participants while they performed a visual three-stimulus oddball paradigm (frequent standard, rare target, and rare distractor). The discrimination difficulty between standard and target was manipulated in the central location. Distractor stimuli were presented in the central or surrounding locations. The P3a component was elicited by distractor stimuli and was used as a measure of attentional capture. The results revealed that discrimination difficulty had opposite effects on the P3a response between central and surrounding locations. With an increase in the difficulty of discrimination, the P3a response was enhanced when distractor stimuli were presented in the central location. In contrast, the P3a response was reduced when distractor stimuli were presented in a surrounding location. This finding suggests that spatial attention was focused by the difficulty of discrimination, and deviant processing was increased within its focus but decreased outside its focus. Therefore, attentional capture for deviant distractors is modulated by top–down controlled attentional focus.

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