May 2008
Volume 8, Issue 6
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   May 2008
Homo economicus in visual search
Author Affiliations
  • Vidhya Navalpakkam
    Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology
  • Christof Koch
    Division of Biology, Engineering, California Institute of Technology
  • Pietro Perona
    Computation and Neural Systems, Electrical Engineering, California Institute of Technology
Journal of Vision May 2008, Vol.8, 548. doi:
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      Vidhya Navalpakkam, Christof Koch, Pietro Perona; Homo economicus in visual search. Journal of Vision 2008;8(6):548.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Several real-life decisions involve combining sensory information and reward outcomes. Yet, most previous research in human and animal literature has focused on either economic [1] or sensory decision making [2] in isolation. Here, we find that humans combine sensory information with reward outcomes optimally in a visual search task where they detect the presence or absence of a familiar target object in a cluttered scene, and receive reward feedback based on correct vs. incorrect response. We present three additional findings: 1) Rare targets are missed even when the target is salient (replicating results from [3]). 2) Contrary to previous studies [3,4], we find a rapid and optimal influence of reward on sensory decision making and detection rates - humans behave as reward-maximizing agents and decide whether the target is present or not based on whichever maximizes their expected reward. Hence, the poor detection performance for rare targets can be corrected by changing the reward scheme. 3) A quantitative model based on reward-maximization accurately predicts human detection behavior in different target frequency and reward conditions. We use this model to illustrate how reward schemes can be designed to obtain high detection rates for any target frequency. Potential applications of our findings include improving detection rates in life-critical searches for rare targets (e.g., bombs in airline passenger bags, cancers in medical images).

[1] Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (2000). Choices, Values, and Frames. Cambridge University Press.

[2] Gold, J. I., & Shadlen, M.N. (2007). The Neural Basis of Decision Making. Annu. Rev. Neurosci, 30:535-574.

[3] Wolfe, J. M., Horowitz, T. S., & Kenner, N. M. (2005). Cognitive psychology: rare items often missed in visual searches. Nature, 435(7041):439-40.

[4] Todd Maddox, W. (2002). Toward a unified theory of decision criterion learning in perceptual categorization. J Exp Anal Behav, 78(3):567-595, Nov.

Navalpakkam, V. Koch, C. Perona, P. (2008). Homo economicus in visual search [Abstract]. Journal of Vision, 8(6):548, 548a,, doi:10.1167/8.6.548. [CrossRef]

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