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Robert Rauschenberger, Hengqing Chu; The effects of familiarity on encoding efficiency in visual search. Journal of Vision 2005;5(8):423. doi: 10.1167/5.8.423.
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In a number of variations on an experiment by Treisman and Souther (1985, Expt. 1), Rauschenberger and Yantis (1999, 2004) found that a particular circle-line combination (oriented to resemble a “Q”) enjoyed significantly greater search efficiency than other, similar circle-line combinations, even though subjects were not instructed to interpret the stimulus in any meaningful way. At the same time, although control experiments made it unlikely that featural differences were responsible for the observed benefit, there was no direct evidence that this benefit was attributable to the “Q-ness” of the stimulus. In the present study, a subset of Rauschenberger and Yantis' experiments was repeated in a remote region of China, using 21 Chinese participants who had never been exposed to the letters of the Latin alphabet. For these participants, there was no difference in search efficiency between the different variants of the circle-line stimulus. That is, in contrast to Rauschenberger and Yantis' results, there was no benefit for the “Q”-like stimulus. These results corroborate Rauschenberger and Yantis' conjecture that the familiarity of the “Q”-like stimulus was responsible for the relatively efficient search afforded by this stimulus. To demonstrate that familiarity is only a secondary factor, however, that influences search efficiency by modulating the redundancy (in the sense of Garner, 1962, 1974), or perceptual “goodness,” of the stimulus, we will review a number of findings from Rauschenberger and Yantis' original study.
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