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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2008 Oct;34(5):1053-65. doi: 10.1037/0096-1523.34.5.1053.

Pip and pop: nonspatial auditory signals improve spatial visual search.

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Department of Cognitive Psychology, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Searching for an object within a cluttered, continuously changing environment can be a very time-consuming process. The authors show that a simple auditory pip drastically decreases search times for a synchronized visual object that is normally very difficult to find. This effect occurs even though the pip contains no information on the location or identity of the visual object. The experiments also show that the effect is not due to general alerting (because it does not occur with visual cues), nor is it due to top-down cuing of the visual change (because it still occurs when the pip is synchronized with distractors on the majority of trials). Instead, we propose that the temporal information of the auditory signal is integrated with the visual signal, generating a relatively salient emergent feature that automatically draws attention. Phenomenally, the synchronous pip makes the visual object pop out from its complex environment, providing a direct demonstration of spatially nonspecific sounds affecting competition in spatial visual processing.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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