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Salience and target selection in visual search

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Why is it easy to find strawberries and difficult to collect gooseberries or green tomatoes? Why don't we see the tree in the forest but do see the single tree in the garden? Various explanations have been given to account for these phenomena. The present paper is concentrating on salience, a property apparently important for search but not frequently discussed in this context. Salience lets targets stand out and thus controls the selection of items that need to be investigated when a certain target is to be searched for. This proposal was tested in two series of experiments. It was found that salience detection and target identification followed different time courses; even typical “pop-out” targets (bright or dark blobs, gaps) were faster located than identified. The importance of salience in visual search was further investigated by manipulating target salience without affecting stimulus properties that are assumed to be relevant for search. When the salience of individual items was increased, the effective set size was reduced and search performance improved. This suggests an interactive and complementary function of salience and attention which is further discussed.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Visual Perception Laboratory, Göttingen, Germany

Publication date: August 1, 2006

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