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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2011 Feb;37(1):58-71. doi: 10.1037/a0020747.

What are the shapes of response time distributions in visual search?

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Visual Attention Laboratory, Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, 64 Sidney Street, Suite 170, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


Many visual search experiments measure response time (RT) as their primary dependent variable. Analyses typically focus on mean (or median) RT. However, given enough data, the RT distribution can be a rich source of information. For this paper, we collected about 500 trials per cell per observer for both target-present and target-absent displays in each of three classic search tasks: feature search, with the target defined by color; conjunction search, with the target defined by both color and orientation; and spatial configuration search for a 2 among distractor 5s. This large data set allows us to characterize the RT distributions in detail. We present the raw RT distributions and fit several psychologically motivated functions (ex-Gaussian, ex-Wald, Gamma, and Weibull) to the data. We analyze and interpret parameter trends from these four functions within the context of theories of visual search.

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