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Psychol Rev. 2007 Jan;114(1):71-103.

Parallel and serial processes in visual search.

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Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


A long-standing issue in the study of how people acquire visual information centers around the scheduling and deployment of attentional resources: Is the process serial, or is it parallel? A substantial empirical effort has been dedicated to resolving this issue (e.g., J. M. Wolfe, 1998a, 1998b). However, the results remain largely inconclusive because the methodologies that have historically been used cannot make the necessary distinctions (J. Palmer, 1995; J. T. Townsend, 1972, 1974, 1990). In this article, the authors develop a rigorous procedure for deciding the scheduling problem in visual search by making improvements in both search methodology and data interpretation. The search method, originally used by A. H. C. van der Heijden (1975), generalizes the traditional single-target methodology by permitting multiple targets. Reaction times and error rates from 29 representative search studies were analyzed using Monte Carlo simulation. Parallel and serial models of attention were defined by coupling the appropriate sequential sampling algorithms to realistic constraints on decision making. The authors found that although most searches are conducted by a parallel limited-capacity process, there is a distinguishable search class that is serial.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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