The Time Course of Similarity Effects in Visual Search

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Abstract

It is well established that visual search becomes harder when the similarity between target and distractors is increased and the similarity between distractors is decreased. However, in models of visual search, similarity is typically treated as a static, time-invariant property of the relation between objects. Data from other perceptual tasks (e.g., categorization) demonstrate that similarity is dynamic and changes as perceptual information is accumulated (Lamberts, 1998). In three visual search experiments, the time course of target–distractor similarity effects and distractor–distractor similarity effects was examined. A version of the extended generalized context model (EGCM; Lamberts, 1998) provided a good account of the time course of the observed similarity effects, supporting the notion that similarity in search is dynamic. Modeling also indicated that increasing distractor homogeneity influences both perceptual and decision processes by (respectively) increasing the rate at which stimulus features are processed and enabling strategic weighting of stimulus information.

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