The effects of visual discomfort and pattern structure on visual search

Elizabeth Conlon, William Lovegrove, Trevor Hine, Eugene Chekaluk, Kerry Piatek, Kerry Hayes-Williams

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    35 Citations (Scopus)


    Unpleasant somatic and perceptual side effects can be induced when viewing striped repetitive patterns, such as a square wave or a page of text. This sensitivity is greater in participants with higher scores on a scale of visual discomfort. In three experiments the effect that this sensitivity has on performance efficiency in a reading-like visual search task was investigated. In experiments 1 and 2, the 'global' structure of the patterns was manipulated to produce a square-wave, a checkerboard, and a plaid pattern. It was found that the group that suffered severe visual discomfort took significantly longer than other groups to perform the task, with interference greatest with presentation of the square-wave-like pattern. This supports the prediction of greatest distraction of visual attention from the local target elements with presentation of the pattern structure inducing greatest visual discomfort. In experiment 3, the internal pattern components were manipulated and task difficulty reduced. A no-interference and two interference patterns one with a global characteristic only and the second made up of distracting line elements, containing global and local components were used. The global pattern structure produced interference effects on the visual-search task. All groups performed with the same speed and accuracy on the task involving the no-interference pattern, a finding attributed to reduced task difficulty. McConkie and Zola's model of visual attention was used to explain these results.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)21-33
    Number of pages13
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1998

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