September 2021
Volume 21, Issue 9
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2021
How Do Expectations of the Upcoming Search Difficulty Alter Search Performance?
Author Affiliations
  • Natalie A Paquette
    University of Central Florida
  • Joseph Schmidt
    University of Central Florida
Journal of Vision September 2021, Vol.21, 1964. doi:
  • Views
  • Share
  • Tools
    • Alerts
      This feature is available to authenticated users only.
      Sign In or Create an Account ×
    • Get Citation

      Natalie A Paquette, Joseph Schmidt; How Do Expectations of the Upcoming Search Difficulty Alter Search Performance?. Journal of Vision 2021;21(9):1964.

      Download citation file:

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

  • Supplements

Real-world search difficulty is highly variable, but can be reliably anticipated sometimes (e.g. finding your car in an empty parking lot). During a difficult block of trials, performance decreases, but observers who hold more target detail in visual-working memory mitigate the performance decrement associated with difficult search (Schmidt, & Zelinsky, 2017). Given this, expected search difficulty may significantly drive performance. This study examined expected difficulty effects in simple stimuli (Landolt-C’s; Experiment 1) and real-world objects (RWO; Experiment 2). We recorded eye-movements as participants performed blocks of easy, moderate, or difficult search created by manipulating the number of target similar distractors. Observers localized previously cued targets within a semi-circular array of six items. Expectancy was assessed by examining the change in search performance between trials that matched the block difficulty level (Experiment 1: 83.33% & Experiment 2: 75.00% of trials), and trials that were easier or harder than expected. In both studies, increased search difficulty resulted in reduced accuracy, increased RT, and increased time spent fixating targets and distractors (all p<.05). Search guidance was at chance in Experiment 1 (p=.422), and above chance in Experiment 2, but decreased with increasing search difficulty (p<.001). Searching for simple stimuli and expecting an easy search, but performing a more difficult search, resulted in reduced accuracy, less time fixating targets and fixating distractors (all p<.01). Expecting a difficult search, but performing an easier search, resulted in more time fixating targets/distractors and increased RT (all p<.05). RWO’s replicated the easier than expected effects in RT and time spent fixating distractors, and additionally observed a decrease in target guidance (all p<.05). Overall, expectancy changes performance to make it more like the expected search difficulty. Consequently, these expectations should only change performance by some fractional difference between expected and actual difficulty.


This PDF is available to Subscribers Only

Sign in or purchase a subscription to access this content. ×

You must be signed into an individual account to use this feature.