Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 2011;64(5):871-888.
It is well known that stimuli grab attention to their location, but do they also grab
attention to their sensory modality? The modality shift effect (MSE), the observation
that responding to a stimulus leads to reaction time benefits for subsequent stimuli
in the same modality, suggests that this may be the case. If noninformative cue stimuli,
which do not require a response, also lead to benefits for their modality, this would
suggest that the effect is automatic. We investigated the time-course of the visuotactile
MSE and the difference between the effects of cues and targets. In Experiment 1, when
visual and tactile tasks and stimulus locations were matched, uninformative cues did
not lead to reaction time benefits for targets in the same modality. However, the
modality of the previous target led to a significant MSE. Only stimuli that require
a response, therefore, appear to lead to reaction time benefits for their modality.
In Experiment 2, increasing attention to the cue stimuli attenuated the effect of
the previous target, but the cues still did not lead to a MSE. In Experiment 3, a
MSE was demonstrated between successive targets, and this effect decreased with increasing
intertrial intervals. Overall, these studies demonstrate how cue- and target-induced
effects interact and suggest that modalities do not automatically capture attention
as locations do; rather, the MSE is more similar to other task repetition effects.