Spatial cueing is thought to indicate the resource limits of visual attention because invalidly cued items are reported more slowly and less accurately than validly cued items. However, limited resource accounts cannot explain certain findings, such as dividing attention without costs, or attentional benefits without invalidity costs. The current study presents a new account of exogenous cueing, namely the memory encoding cost (MEC) theory, which integrates attention and memory encoding to explain costs and benefits evoked by a spatial cue. Unlike conventional theories that focus on the role of attention in yielding spatial cueing effects, the MEC theory argues that some cueing effects are caused by a combination of attentional facilitation evoked by the cue, but also the cost of encoding the cue into memory. The crucial implication of this theory is that limitations in attentional deployment may not necessarily be the cause of invalidity costs. MEC generates a number of predictions that we test here, providing five convergent lines of evidence that cue encoding plays a key role in producing cueing effects. Furthermore, the MEC suggests a common mechanism underlying cueing costs and the attentional blink, and we simulate the core empirical findings of the current study with an existing attentional blink model. The model was able to simulate these effects primarily through manipulation of a single parameter that corresponds to memory encoding. The MEC theory thus simplifies our theoretical understanding of attentional effects by linking the attentional blink and some varieties of spatial cueing costs to a common mechanism.
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