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Salience-controlled visual search: Are the brightest and the least bright targets found by different processes?

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It has been proposed that maximum and minimum targets (like the brightest or the least-bright item of a sample) are found by different search processes, the latter but not the former being sensitive to the withdrawal of focal attention. The present study could not establish such a systematic difference and suggests that variations in search performance are due to variations in target salience. Bright targets among dim distractors were generally more salient than dim targets among bright dis-tractors (Experiment 1). In both conditions, search performance was deteriorated when attention was withdrawn (Experiment 2). Performance became identical when maximum and minimum targets were matched in salience; this was also confirmed for dark items on bright background (Experiment 3). The data underline the importance of salience in visual search but do not support the assumption that maximum and minimum target searches are qualitatively different in their demands on focal attention. Salience and attention rather seem to resemble complementary functions in visual search; the less salient a target is the more attention is required to detect it.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Visual Perception Laboratory, Göttingen, Germany

Publication date: 2006-04-01

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