The visual system can use conceptual information to search for targets even in the absence of clear featural signifiers, and visual saccades are often directed at target objects defined by conceptual content. These abilities are a core component of our facility with the visual world. Here, we evaluate whether contingent mechanisms of visual attention, known to trigger in response to target features such as motion, color or luminance, are also triggered by visual patterns that match conceptually specified categories. These pre-registered experiments provide convergent behavioral and electrophysiological support that attention is rapidly triggered by natural image exemplars from superordinate conceptually described target sets such as dinner food or four-legged animal, causing a rapid, spatially selective, covert enhancement of visual input, even though images were never repeated within a given experiment. In the behavioral experiment, two such targets presented in sequence elicited higher accuracy for reporting the second when it appeared in the same spatial location as the first. In the EEG experiment, target images elicited clear N2pc and P3 components only when those images matched the conceptually specified target set. The same images elicited no comparable waveforms when they were not of the target set. The latency of the N2pc peaked at roughly 250ms, which is comparable to that commonly found in other N2pc studies for simpler stimulus types. These results suggest that vision is able to quickly decode conceptual information from natural images and selectively deploy spatial attention to locations containing information that matches current search goals.
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