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Working paper

Visual search for letters in the right vs. left visual hemifields: the role of perceptual load and set

The aim of the study was to better understand interconnection of visual attention, word processing and visual field asymmetries. Three experiments investigated visual search for a prespecified letter in displays containing 6-letter words or nonwords placed 7 degrees left and right to the fixation, with a variable target letter position within word and nonword strings. In Experiment 1, two letter strings of the same type (either words or nonwords) were presented to both sides of the visual field. In Experiment 2, there was only one letter string presented right or left to the fixation. In Experiment 3, two letter strings presented to both sides of the visual field were of different type (one word and one nonword). RT and accuracy data were collected. The results of Experiment 1 provide evidence for serial search for a letter within a word in the left visual field (LVF) and within a nonword in the right visual field (RVF) and parallel search for a letter within a nonword in the LVF and within a word in the RVF. The results of Experiment 3 were similar except for serial search for words in RVF. In Experiment 2, where perceptual load was twice lower, the search within both types of letter strings in both hemifields was serial. These results demonstrate the influence of the perceptual load and readiness to process a certain type of letter string, on the observers' choice  of search strategy.