The preview benefit for familiar and unfamiliar faces

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Previewing distracters improves visual search - the preview benefit (Watson & Humphreys, 1997). Recent fMRI evidence suggests that the preview benefit rests on active inhibition in brain regions concerned with spatial memory, as well as in content selective areas (Allen, Humphreys, & Matthews, 2008). Using familiar and unfamiliar faces in a preview search task we show that search performance is much better with familiar than with unfamiliar faces. With both types of stimuli we obtained preview benefits of at least 10%, measured in terms of the advantage in reaction time relative to the no preview condition. The preview benefit increased up to 30% when distracter faces and their locations were previewed, compared to a benefit in the range of 10-25% for previewing just distracter locations. Analysis in terms of search time per item showed that familiar faces were processed with more than double the efficiency of the unfamiliar faces. Further, efficiency was enhanced relative to the no preview condition only when distracter locations and content were previewed, but not when participants previewed just distracter locations. These findings corroborate that the preview benefit involves both spatial and content-specific mechanisms, and indicate contribution of existing long-term memory representations independent of spatial memory.

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