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Anna Kosovicheva, Abla Alaoui-Soce, Jeremy M. Wolfe; Looking ahead: When do you find the next item in foraging visual search?. Journal of Vision 2020;20(2):3. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.2.3.
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Many real-world visual tasks involve searching for multiple instances of a target (e.g., picking ripe berries). What strategies do observers use when collecting items in this type of search? Do they wait to finish collecting the current item before starting to look for the next target, or do they search ahead for future targets? We utilized behavioral and eye-tracking measures to distinguish between these two possibilities in foraging search. Experiment 1 used a color wheel technique in which observers searched for T shapes among L shapes while all items independently cycled through a set of colors. Trials were abruptly terminated, and observers reported both the color and location of the next target that they intended to click. Using observers’ color reports to infer target-finding times, we demonstrate that observers found the next item before the time of the click on the current target. We validated these results in Experiment 2 by recording fixation locations around the time of each click. Experiment 3 utilized a different procedure, in which all items were intermittently occluded during the trial. We then calculated a distribution of when targets were visible around the time of each click, allowing us to infer when they were most likely found. In a fourth and final experiment, observers indicated the locations of multiple future targets after the search was abruptly terminated. Together, our results provide converging evidence to demonstrate that observers can find the next target before collecting the current target and can typically forage one to two items ahead.
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