Dual-Target Cost in Visual Search for Multiple Unfamiliar Faces

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The efficiency of visual search for one (single-target) and either of two (dual-target) unfamiliar faces was explored to understand the manifestations of capacity and guidance limitations in face search. The visual similarity of distractor faces to target faces was manipulated using morphing (Experiments 1 and 2) and multidimensional scaling (Experiment 3). A dual-target cost was found in all experiments, evidenced by slower and less accurate search in dual- than single-target conditions. The dual-target cost was unequal across the targets, with performance being maintained on one target and reduced on the other, which we label “preferred” and “non-preferred” respectively. We calculated the capacity for each target face and show reduced capacity for representing the non-preferred target face. However, results show that the capacity for the non-preferred target can be increased when the dual-target condition is conducted after participants complete the single-target conditions. Analyses of eye movements revealed evidence for weak guidance of fixations in single-target search, and when searching for the preferred target in dual-target search. Overall, the experiments show dual-target search for faces is capacity- and guidance-limited, leading to superior search for 1 face over the other in dual-target search. However, learning faces individually may improve capacity with the second face.

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