Visual search guidance is best after a short delay

Joseph Schmidt, Gregory J Zelinsky
Vision Research 2011 March 25, 51 (6): 535-45
Search displays are typically presented immediately after a target cue, but in the real-world, delays often exist between target designation and search. Experiments 1 and 2 asked how search guidance changes with delay. Targets were cued using a picture or text label, each for 3000ms, followed by a delay up to 9000ms before the search display. Search stimuli were realistic objects, and guidance was quantified using multiple eye movement measures. Text-based cues showed a non-significant trend towards greater guidance following any delay relative to a no-delay condition. However, guidance from a pictorial cue increased sharply 300-600ms after preview offset. Experiment 3 replicated this guidance enhancement using shorter preview durations while equating the time from cue onset to search onset, demonstrating that the guidance benefit is linked to preview offset rather than a more complete encoding of the target. Experiment 4 showed that enhanced guidance persists even with a mask flashed at preview offset, suggesting an explanation other than visual priming. We interpret our findings as evidence for the rapid consolidation of target information into a guiding representation, which attains its maximum effectiveness shortly after preview offset.

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