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Complex backgrounds delay low-load visual search

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image of Spatial Vision
For more content, see Multisensory Research and Seeing and Perceiving.

Past research has shown, separately, that endogenous location cues and high perceptual load search tasks increase the specificity of attentional deployment to task-relevant regions of the visual field, while complex task-irrelevant backgrounds greatly resembling task-relevant stimuli reduce it. Here, we investigated in the same study whether the perceptual load created by an endogenously cued set of task-relevant stimuli determines whether a surrounding complex background of similar task-irrelevant stimuli would interfere with search. Our results show that high perceptual load protects against interference from a complex background of similar but task-irrelevant stimuli, situated just beyond the boundaries of the task-relevant set. Furthermore, our findings demonstrate that search characteristics do not change when the relevant set is restricted attentionally to a smaller delineated area, even in the presence of a background. Finally, we found that the efficacy of endogenous location cueing is not dependent on the type of search task that occurs in the cued area. Our findings also reveal that alternative attention-directing strategies, such as guided search and signal detection, may be employed in such tasks in the absence of endogenous location cueing.

Affiliations: 1: Visual Perception Laboratory, Psychology Department, Concordia University, 7141 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec, H4B 1R6, Canada


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