In a visual search task, knowing features of distractors in advance leads to a more efficient visual search. Although previous studies suggested that the benefits of these negative cues rely on attentional control, it is unclear whether proactive or reactive control is involved. In this study, we analyzed the EEG data of participants performing a visual search task (n = 14). Participants searched for a shape-defined target after receiving a positive cue (target color), negative cue (distractor color), or neutral cue (non-informative). To examine proactive control, we measured EEG after the cue onset but before visual search. Our time–frequency analysis revealed a higher power of theta oscillations over frontoparietal regions after the negative cues compared with the positive and neutral cues, as well as higher theta phase synchronization within the prefrontal region, demonstrating negative cues rely more heavily on proactive control compared with other cue types. To examine reactive control, we measured EEG after the search onset. We found a lateralization of posterior alpha power toward the target side in both positive and negative cues conditions, with a later lateralization observed after negative cues. Interestingly, we observed a significant relationship between the increase of proactive theta power after negative cues and the decrease of reactive alpha power after the search. This suggests the coordination of proactive and reactive mechanisms lead to the most efficient search.

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