The footprints of visual attention during search with 100% valid and 100% invalid cues

Miguel P Eckstein, Binh T Pham, Steven S Shimozaki
Vision Research 2004, 44 (12): 1193-207
Human performance during visual search typically improves when spatial cues indicate the possible target locations. In many instances, the performance improvement is quantitatively predicted by a Bayesian or quasi-Bayesian observer in which visual attention simply selects the information at the cued locations without changing the quality of processing or sensitivity and ignores the information at the uncued locations. Aside from the general good agreement between the effect of the cue on model and human performance, there has been little independent confirmation that humans are effectively selecting the relevant information. In this study, we used the classification image technique to assess the effectiveness of spatial cues in the attentional selection of relevant locations and suppression of irrelevant locations indicated by spatial cues. Observers searched for a bright target among dimmer distractors that might appear (with 50% probability) in one of eight locations in visual white noise. The possible target location was indicated using a 100% valid box cue or seven 100% invalid box cues in which the only potential target locations was uncued. For both conditions, we found statistically significant perceptual templates shaped as differences of Gaussians at the relevant locations with no perceptual templates at the irrelevant locations. We did not find statistical significant differences between the shapes of the inferred perceptual templates for the 100% valid and 100% invalid cues conditions. The results confirm the idea that during search visual attention allows the observer to effectively select relevant information and ignore irrelevant information. The results for the 100% invalid cues condition suggests that the selection process is not drawn automatically to the cue but can be under the observers' voluntary control.

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