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Visual conspicuity: A new simple standard, its reliability, validity and applicability

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A general standard for quantifying conspicuity is described. It derives from a simple and easy method to quantitatively measure the visual conspicuity of an object. The method stems from the theoretical view that the conspicuity of an object is not a property of that object, but describes the degree to which the object is perceptually embedded in, i.e. laterally masked by, its visual environment. First, three variations of a simple method to measure the strength of such lateral masking are described and empirical evidence for its reliability and its validity is presented, as are several tests of predictions concerning the effects of viewing distance and ambient light. It is then shown how this method yields a conspicuity standard, expressed as a number, which can be made part of a rule of law, and which can be used to test whether or not, and to what extent, the conspicuity of a particular object, e.g. a traffic sign, meets a predetermined criterion. An additional feature is that, when used under different ambient light conditions, the method may also yield an index of the amount of visual clutter in the environment. Taken together the evidence illustrates the methods' applicability in both the laboratory and in real-life situations. Statement of Relevance: This paper concerns a proposal for a new method to measure visual conspicuity, yielding a numerical index that can be used in a rule of law. It is of importance to ergonomists and human factor specialists who are asked to measure the conspicuity of an object, such as a traffic or rail-road sign, or any other object. The new method is simple and circumvents the need to perform elaborate (search) experiments and thus has great relevance as a simple tool for applied research.
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Keywords: conspicuity; crowding; lateral masking; visibility; visual clutter; visual search

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Utrecht University Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychonomics, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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