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Article

Expectations and Perceptual Priming in a Visual Search Task: Evidence From Eye Movements and Behavior

Kristjansson A., Chetverikov A., Tudge L., Shurygina O.

An extensive amount of research indicates that repeating target and distractor features facilitates pop-out search while switching these features slows the search. Following the seminal study by Maljkovic and Nakayama (1994), this “priming of pop-out” effect (PoP) has been widely described as an automatic bottom-up process that is independent of the observers’ expectations. At the same time, numerous studies highlight the crucial role of expectations in visual attention deployment. Our experiment shows that in contrast to previous claims, PoP in a classic color singleton search task is a mix of automatic processing and expectations. Participants searched for a uniquely colored diamond among 2 same-colored distractors. Target color sequences were either predictable (e.g., 2 red-target-green-distractors trials, followed by 2 green-target-red-distractors trials, and so on) or random. Responses were faster in predictable color sequences than randomly changing ones with equal number of repetitions of target colors on preceding trials. Analyses of observers’ eye movements showed that predictability of target color affected both latency and accuracy of the first saccade during a search trial. Our results support the idea that PoP is governed not only by automatic effects from previous target or distractor features but also by top-down expectations.