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Time course of target recognition in visual search

Kotowicz, Andreas and Rutishauser, Ueli and Koch, Christof (2010) Time course of target recognition in visual search. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 4 . Art. No. 31. ISSN 1662-5161. PMCID PMC2859879.

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Visual search is a ubiquitous task of great importance: it allows us to quickly find the objects that we are looking for. During active search for an object (target), eye movements are made to different parts of the scene. Fixation locations are chosen based on a combination of information about the target and the visual input. At the end of a successful search, the eyes typically fixate on the target. But does this imply that target identification occurs while looking at it? The duration of a typical fixation (~170ms) and neuronal latencies of both the oculomotor system and the visual stream indicate that there might not be enough time to do so. Previous studies have suggested the following solution to this dilemma: the target is identified extrafoveally and this event will trigger a saccade towards the target location. However this has not been experimentally verified. Here we test the hypothesis that subjects recognize the target before they look at it using a search display of oriented colored bars. Using a gaze-contingent real-time technique, we prematurely stopped search shortly after subjects fixated the target. Afterwards, we asked subjects to identify the target location. We find that subjects can identify the target location even when fixating on the target for less than 10ms. Longer fixations on the target do not increase detection performance but increase confidence. In contrast, subjects cannot perform this task if they are not allowed to move their eyes. Thus, information about the target during conjunction search for colored oriented bars can, in some circumstances, be acquired at least one fixation ahead of reaching the target. The final fixation serves to increase confidence rather then performance, illustrating a distinct role of the final fixation for the subjective judgment of confidence rather than accuracy.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle
Rutishauser, Ueli0000-0002-9207-7069
Koch, Christof0000-0001-6482-8067
Additional Information:© 2010 Kotowicz, Rutishauser and Koch. This is an open-access article subject to an exclusive license agreement between the authors and the Frontiers Research Foundation, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original authors and source are credited. Received: 06 August 2009; Paper pending published: 17 October 2009; Accepted: 25 March 2010; Published online: 13 April 2010. Edited by: Maurizio Corbetta, Washington University, USA. Reviewed by: Martin Pare', Queen's University, Canada; Matt Peterson, George Mason University, USA; Miguel Eckstein, University of California Santa Barbara, USA. The research reported here was funded by the NIMH, the NSF, NGA, DARPA and the Mathers Foundation. We thank Wolfgang Einhäuser-Treyer and Alexander Huth for discussion.
Group:Koch Laboratory (KLAB)
Funding AgencyGrant Number
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)UNSPECIFIED
National Geospatial-Intelligence AgencyUNSPECIFIED
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)UNSPECIFIED
Mathers FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:eye movements; object recognition; psychophysics; top-down attention; visual search; confidence judgement
PubMed Central ID:PMC2859879
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20100615-132702433
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Kotowicz A, Rutishauser U and Koch C (2010) Time course of target recognition in visual search. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 4:31. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2010.00031
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:18689
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:30 Jun 2010 22:35
Last Modified:01 Apr 2020 22:54

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