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Homo economicus in visual search

Navalpakkam, Vidhya and Koch, Christof and Perona, Pietro (2009) Homo economicus in visual search. Journal of Vision, 9 (1). Art. No. 31. ISSN 1534-7362. doi:10.1167/9.1.31.

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How do reward outcomes affect early visual performance? Previous studies found a suboptimal influence, but they ignored the non-linearity in how subjects perceived the reward outcomes. In contrast, we find that when the non-linearity is accounted for, humans behave optimally and maximize expected reward. Our subjects were asked to detect the presence of a familiar target object in a cluttered scene. They were rewarded according to their performance. We systematically varied the target frequency and the reward/penalty policy for detecting/missing the targets. We find that 1) decreasing the target frequency will decrease the detection rates, in accordance with the literature. 2) Contrary to previous studies, increasing the target detection rewards will compensate for target rarity and restore detection performance. 3) A quantitative model based on reward maximization accurately predicts human detection behavior in all target frequency and reward conditions; thus, reward schemes can be designed to obtain desired detection rates for rare targets. 4) Subjects quickly learn the optimal decision strategy; we propose a neurally plausible model that exhibits the same properties. Potential applications include designing reward schemes to improve detection of life-critical, rare targets (e.g., cancers in medical images).

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Koch, Christof0000-0001-6482-8067
Perona, Pietro0000-0002-7583-5809
Additional Information:© 2009 ARVO. Received March 18, 2008; published January 23, 2009. This work was supported by grants from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). We would like to thank John O’Doherty, Shin Shimojo, Preeti Verghese, Jeremy Wolfe, two anonymous reviewers, and the editor for their valuable comments. The authors affirm that the views expressed herein are solely their own and do not represent the views of the United States government or any agency thereof.
Group:Koch Laboratory (KLAB)
Funding AgencyGrant Number
National Geospatial-Intelligence AgencyUNSPECIFIED
Office of Naval Research (ONR)UNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:computational modeling; detection; learning; search; visual cognition; reward; target rarity
Issue or Number:1
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20090623-094808634
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Navalpakkam, V., Koch, C., & Perona, P. (2009). Homo economicus in visual search. Journal of Vision, 9(1):31, 1-16,, doi:10.1167/9.1.31.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:14426
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:19 Aug 2009 03:26
Last Modified:08 Nov 2021 23:11

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