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J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2011 Dec;54(6):1644-57. doi: 10.1044/1092-4388(2011/10-0098). Epub 2011 Aug 23.

Preliminary investigation of visual attention to human figures in photographs: potential considerations for the design of aided AAC visual scene displays.

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  • 1The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, USA.



Many individuals with complex communication needs may benefit from visual aided augmentative and alternative communication systems. In visual scene displays (VSDs), language concepts are embedded into a photograph of a naturalistic event. Humans play a central role in communication development and might be important elements in VSDs. However, many VSDs omit human figures. In this study, the authors sought to describe the distribution of visual attention to humans in naturalistic scenes as compared with other elements.


Nineteen college students observed 8 photographs in which a human figure appeared near 1 or more items that might be expected to compete for visual attention (such as a Christmas tree or a table loaded with food). Eye-tracking technology allowed precise recording of participants' gaze. The fixation duration over a 7-s viewing period and latency to view elements in the photograph were measured.


Participants fixated on the human figures more rapidly and for longer than expected based on the size of these figures, regardless of the other elements in the scene.


Human figures attract attention in a photograph even when presented alongside other attractive distracters. Results suggest that humans may be a powerful means to attract visual attention to key elements in VSDs.

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