More Than Just Finding Color: Strategy in Global Visual Search Is Shaped by Learned Target Probabilities

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Abstract

In 2 experiments, eye movements were examined during searches in which elements were grouped into four 9-item clusters. The target (a red or blue T) was known in advance, and each cluster contained different numbers of target-color elements. Rather than color composition of a cluster invariantly guiding the order of search though clusters, the use of color was determined by the probability that the target would appear in a cluster of a certain color type: When the target was equally likely to be in any cluster containing the target color, fixations were directed to those clusters approximately equally, but when targets were more likely to appear in clusters with more target-color items, those clusters were likely to be fixated sooner. (The target probabilities guided search without explicit instruction.) Once fixated, the time spent within a cluster depended on the number of target-color elements, consistent with a search of only those elements. Thus, between-cluster search was influenced by global target probabilities signaled by amount of color or color ratios, whereas within-cluster search was directly driven by presence of the target color.

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