Visual transients can interrupt overt orienting by abolishing the execution of a planned eye movement due about 90 ms later, a phenomenon known as saccadic inhibition (SI). It is not known if the same inhibitory process might influence covert orienting in the absence of saccades, and consequently alter visual perception. In Experiment 1 (n = 14), we measured orientation discrimination during a covert orienting task in which an uninformative exogenous visual cue preceded the onset of an oriented probe by 140-290 ms. In half of the trials, the onset of the probe was accompanied by a brief irrelevant flash, a visual transient that would normally induce SI. We report a time-dependent inhibition of covert orienting in which the irrelevant flash impaired orientation discrimination accuracy when the probe followed the cue by 190 and 240 ms. The interference was more pronounced when the cue was incongruent with the probe location, suggesting an impact on the reorienting component of the attentional shift. In Experiment 2 (n = 12), we tested whether the inhibitory effect of the flash could occur within an earlier time range, or only within the later, reorienting range. We presented probes at congruent cue locations in a time window between 50 and 200 ms. Similar to Experiment 1, discrimination performance was altered at 200 ms after the cue. We suggest that covert attention may be susceptible to similar inhibitory mechanisms that generate SI, especially in later stages of attentional shifting (> 200 ms after a cue), typically associated with reorienting.
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