This chapter focuses on research using the event-related potential (ERP) method to investigate the mechanisms of involuntary attention. Given the very rapid time course of reflexive attention, and given its rapid switch from facilitating to inhibiting target processing, methods that directly measure neural activity are important for understanding the rapid dynamics of involuntary attention. The critical issues reviewed in the chapter revolve around the following questions: What stage or stages of processing, from initial sensation through response execution, are modulated by mechanisms of involuntary attention? Do involuntary and voluntary attention affect neural processing in the same way? How do voluntary and involuntary attention interact when pitted against each other? Is the capture of attention automatic, or is it contingent on top-down goals? What distinguishes the ability of some subjects to avoid distraction better than others? Beyond the initial reflexive orienting toward a salient stimulus, what involuntarily holds attention?
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