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Searching through the hierarchy: How level of target categorization affects visual search

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Does the same basic-level advantage commonly observed in the categorization literature also hold for targets in a search task? We answered this question by first conducting a category verification task to define a set of categories showing a standard basic-level advantage, which we then used as stimuli in a search experiment. Participants were cued with a picture preview of the target or its category name at either superordinate, basic, or subordinate levels, then shown a target-present/absent search display. Although search guidance and target verification was best using pictorial cues, the effectiveness of the categorical cues depended on the hierarchical level. Search guidance was best for the specific subordinate-level cues, whereas target verification showed a standard basic-level advantage. These findings demonstrate different hierarchical advantages for guidance and verification in categorical search. We interpret these results as evidence for a common target representation underlying categorical search guidance and verification.

Keywords: Basic-level advantage; Categorical search; Category verification; Eye movements; Search guidance

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Psychology,Stony Brook University, Stony Brook,NY, USA

Publication date: December 1, 2012


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