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Visual Search for Change: A Probe into the Nature of Attentional Processing

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A set of visual search experiments tested the proposal that focused attention is needed to detect change. Displays were arrays of rectangles, with the target being the item that continually changed its orientation or contrast polarity. Five aspects of performance were examined: linearity of response, processing time, capacity, selectivity, and memory trace. Detection of change was found to be a self-terminating process requiring a time that increased linearly with the number of items in the display. Capacity for orientation was found to be about five items, a value comparable to estimates of attentional capacity. Observers were able to filter out both static and dynamic variations in irrelevant properties. Analysis also indicated a memory for previously attended locations. These results support the hypothesis that the process needed to detect change is much the same as the attentional process needed to detect complex static patterns. Interestingly, the features of orientation and polarity were found to be handled in somewhat different ways. Taken together, these results not only provide evidence that focused attention is needed to see change, but also show that change detection itself can provide new insights into the nature of attentional processing.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2000


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