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Avi M. Aizenman, Krista A. Ehinger, Farahnaz A. Wick, Ruggero Micheletto, Jungyeon Park, Lucas Jurgensen, Jeremy M. Wolfe; Hiding the Rabbit: Using a genetic algorithm to investigate shape guidance in visual search. Journal of Vision 2022;22(1):7. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.22.1.7.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
During visual search, attention is guided by specific features, including shape. Our understanding of shape guidance is limited to specific attributes (closures and line terminations) that do not fully explain the richness of preattentive shape processing. We used a novel genetic algorithm method to explore shape space and to stimulate hypotheses about shape guidance. Initially, observers searched for targets among 12 random distractors defined, in radial frequency space, by the amplitude and phase of 10 radial frequencies. Reaction time (RT) was the measure of “fitness.” To evolve toward an easier search task, distractors with faster RTs survived to the next generation, “mated,” and produced offspring (new distractors for the next generation of search). To evolve a harder search, surviving distractors were those yielding longer RTs. Within eight generations of evolution, the method succeeds in producing visual searches either harder or easier than the starting search. In radial frequency space, easy distractors evolve amplitude × frequency spectra that are dissimilar to the target, whereas hard distractors evolve spectra that are more similar to the target. This method also works with naturally shaped targets (e.g., rabbit silhouettes). Interestingly, the most inefficient distractors featured a combination of a body and ear distractors that did not resemble the rabbit (visually or in spectrum). Adding extra ears to these distractors did not impact the search spectrally and instead made it easier to confirm a rabbit, once it was found. In general, these experiments show that shapes that are clearly distinct when attended are similar to each other preattentively.
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