How feature integration theory integrated cognitive psychology, neurophysiology, and psychophysics
Anne Treisman’s Feature Integration Theory (FIT) is a landmark in cognitive psychology and vision research. While many have discussed how Treisman’s theory has fared since it was first proposed, it is less common to approach FIT from the other side in time: to examine what experimental findings, theoretical concepts, and ideas inspired it. The theory did not enter into a theoretical vacuum. Treisman’s ideas were inspired by a large literature on a number of topics within visual psychophysics, cognitive psychology, and visual neurophysiology. Several key ideas developed contemporaneously within these fields that inspired FIT, and the theory involved an attempt at integrating them. Our aim here was to highlight the conceptual problems, experimental findings, and theoretical positions that Treisman was responding to with her theory and that the theory was intended to explain. We review a large number of findings from the decades preceding the proposal of feature integration theory showing how the theory integrated many ideas that developed in parallel within neurophysiology, visual psychophysics, and cognitive psychology. Our conclusion is that FIT made sense of many preceding findings, integrating them in an elegant way within a single theoretical account.