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Danlei Chen, J. Benjamin Hutchinson; The influence of temporal structure on visual search: How prediction shapes top-down and bottom-up attention. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):647. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/18.10.647.
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Our past experience as reflected by learning and memory can impact where, and to what, we choose to allocate attention. At the same time, much past work in visual attention has focused on the influence of bottom-up (e.g., stimulus salience) and specific top-down factors (e.g., task goals) while attempting to minimize the role of memory (e.g., avoiding stimulus repetition and randomizing trial sequences). Here, we set out to instead characterize how prior experience influences attention by introducing repeating, non-random trial structure into a visual search task. Specifically, observers viewed a series of arrays of shapes and were required to indicate the direction of a target (T-shaped) among distractors (L-shaped). Unbeknownst to the observers, all trials were drawn from eight pairs of stimulus arrays wherein the second array of each pair was always preceded by the first array, while the sequence of pairs was kept random. Thus, all arrays were equated in terms of their absolute memory status (repetition) and differed solely in their predictability. Further, half of the arrays contained a color singleton distractor. This allowed examination of the influence of predictability (i.e., search performance on the second array in a pair versus the first) on visual search with and without bottom-up capture. Interestingly, it was found that predictability facilitated search (faster reaction times), but only in instances where there was not a singleton distractor. These findings indicate associative memory can inform the deployment of spatial attention, but that the predictions based on these memories might not overcome certain forms of bottom-up capture. Additionally, only one of 33 observers reported being aware of the pair structure, further suggesting that such prediction is implicit in nature. Overall, this work highlights how past experience, with or without our conscious awareness, can meaningfully influence our attention in the present in a systematic manner.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018
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