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Task-demands can immediately reverse the effects of sensory-driven saliency in complex visual stimuli

Einhäuser, Wolfgang and Rutishauser, Ueli and Koch, Christof (2008) Task-demands can immediately reverse the effects of sensory-driven saliency in complex visual stimuli. Journal of Vision, 8 (2). Art. No. 2. ISSN 1534-7362.

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In natural vision both stimulus features and task-demands affect an observer's attention. However, the relationship between sensory-driven (“bottom-up”) and task-dependent (“top-down”) factors remains controversial: Can task-demands counteract strong sensory signals fully, quickly, and irrespective of bottom-up features? To measure attention under naturalistic conditions, we recorded eye-movements in human observers, while they viewed photographs of outdoor scenes. In the first experiment, smooth modulations of contrast biased the stimuli's sensory-driven saliency towards one side. In free-viewing, observers' eye-positions were immediately biased toward the high-contrast, i.e., high-saliency, side. However, this sensory-driven bias disappeared entirely when observers searched for a bull's-eye target embedded with equal probability to either side of the stimulus. When the target always occurred in the low-contrast side, observers' eye-positions were immediately biased towards this low-saliency side, i.e., the sensory-driven bias reversed. Hence, task-demands do not only override sensory-driven saliency but also actively countermand it. In a second experiment, a 5-Hz flicker replaced the contrast gradient. Whereas the bias was less persistent in free viewing, the overriding and reversal took longer to deploy. Hence, insufficient sensory-driven saliency cannot account for the bias reversal. In a third experiment, subjects searched for a spot of locally increased contrast (“oddity”) instead of the bull's-eye (“template”). In contrast to the other conditions, a slight sensory-driven free-viewing bias prevails in this condition. In a fourth experiment, we demonstrate that at known locations template targets are detected faster than oddity targets, suggesting that the former induce a stronger top-down drive when used as search targets. Taken together, task-demands can override sensory-driven saliency in complex visual stimuli almost immediately, and the extent of overriding depends on the search target and the overridden feature, but not on the latter's free-viewing saliency.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription DOIArticle
Rutishauser, Ueli0000-0002-9207-7069
Koch, Christof0000-0001-6482-8067
Additional Information:© ARVO 2008. Received February 8, 2007; published February 15, 2008. This work was financially supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (WE, PA00A-111447), the National Institutes of Health USA, the National Science Foundation, and by the DARPA/NGA. The authors thank F. Moradi for discussion and J. Wolfe for comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. Commercial relationships: none.
Group:Koch Laboratory, KLAB
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)PA00A-111447
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)UNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:attention, eye-movements, human, top-down, bottom-up, salience
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:EINjov08
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Official Citation:Einhäuser, W., Rutishauser, U., & Koch, C. (2008). Task-demands can immediately reverse the effects of sensory-driven saliency in complex visual stimuli. Journal of Vision, 8(2):2, 1-19,, doi:10.1167/8.2.2.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:10776
Deposited By: Archive Administrator
Deposited On:09 Jun 2008
Last Modified:20 Mar 2017 22:33

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