Quantitative and qualitative differences in the top-down guiding attributes of visual search

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It is generally assumed that there is a category of undoubted guiding attributes in visual search: colour, motion, orientation. Any differences between these attributes are a matter of degree, rather than kind. This assumption has led to a preferential use of colour in experiments that involve top-down guidance, since it provides the strongest effects. Yet, results observed for colour are considered representative for the other undoubted attributes.
This paper reports seven experiments that compare the top-down guiding strengths of colour, motion and orientation by adding them to a T vs L search. Giving some of the L’s a different colour, motion status or orientation should make the T easier to find, since those L’s cannot possibly be the target.
The results show that whereas adding colour or motion does indeed improve search performance, adding differently oriented L’s actually makes search harder, especially on absent trials and even when there are only very few items that could be the target. There were also some subtle differences between colour and motion.
So, rather than a single category of undoubted guiding attributes, there seems to be a clear ranking, with colour at the top and orientation at the bottom. It may therefore be unwise to think that results found with colour will translate one-on-one to other attributes like motion and orientation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


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