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Daniel Schreij, Chris Olivers; Objects approaching your avatar engage attention. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):91. doi: 10.1167/11.11.91.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Intuitively, attention is captured by objects that rapidly approach us. Indeed, experimental evidence has shown preferred processing of looming stimuli. According to the behavioral urgency hypothesis (Franconeri & Simons, 2003) this makes sense: It states that certain dynamic visual properties deserve priority if they signal the need for immediate action, such as avoiding the potentially dangerous collision of an object with one's body. We investigated if the sense of behavioral urgency is hard-wired to our own body representation, or whether it flexibly transfers to an external representation of the observer, in this case an avatar in a 2D computer game. By controlling the avatar, the participant responded to shape changes of the target in a visual search task. Simultaneously, and completely irrelevant to the task, one of the objects on screen (possibly the target) could move. Target shape identification was speeded when the target was on a collision course with the avatar, rather than when it just passed it by, or moved away from it. Importantly, this prioritization of the target was only evident when it approached the player's avatar and not when it approached a character that was not under the observer's control. This suggests that the behavioral urgency hypothesis not only holds for events possibly threatening to the observer's own body but also for external entities with which the observer can identify.
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