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Sricharan Sunder, S. P. Arun; Look before you seek: Preview adds a fixed benefit to all searches. Journal of Vision 2016;16(15):3. doi: 10.1167/16.15.3.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Knowing in advance what to look for speeds up search, but how this knowledge guides search is poorly understood. The little available evidence suggests that previewing the target produces larger reductions in search times for harder searches. To investigate this issue further, we performed seven experiments in which subjects searched for an oddball target after previewing the target, distracter, or an unrelated square. Consistent with previous studies, harder searches showed bigger reductions in search time for an informative preview. However, the same data replotted using the reciprocal of search time showed a remarkably different result: The informative preview showed a fixed additive increase in reciprocal search time across all searches regardless of difficulty. This is a nontrivial outcome because it cannot be explained using a simple relationship between search times in the informative and uninformative preview conditions. We interpret our findings by proposing that the reciprocal of search time reflects the strength of an underlying accumulating signal related to the distinctiveness or salience of the target over the distracters and that preview additively increases this signal for all searches. This in turn implies that the top-down signals related to target preview and bottom-up signals related to target-distracter salience sum linearly.
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