What influences visual search efficiency? Disentangling contributions of pre-attentive and post-attentive processes

Daniel Smilek, Alexandra Frischen, Michael G. Reynolds, Cory Gerritsen, John D. Eastwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Citations (Scopus)


The present experiments introduce a new search technique for disentangling contributions of preattentive guidance and postattentive template matching to search efficiency. Participants performed searches (for negative or positive faces in Experiment 1; pop-out search in Experiment 2; conjunction search in Experiment 3) under either standard viewing conditions or a new restricted viewing condition in which items were occluded by black placeholders and revealed only when a participant moved the mouse pointer over the black square. Under full viewing conditions, search performance can be aided by both preattentive and postattentive mechanisms, whereas the mouse-contingent search relies solely on postattentive template-matching processes. Results demonstrate the utility of this new methodology for distinguishing contributions of preattentive guidance and postattentive template-matching processes in ambiguous search situations. Furthermore, application of the new restricting viewing method to search for emotionally expressive faces suggested that emotional information is processed preattentively and influences the allocation of focal attention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1105-1116
Number of pages12
JournalPerception and Psychophysics
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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