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PLoS Comput Biol. 2012 Feb;8(2):e1002342. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002342. Epub 2012 Feb 2.

Human visual search does not maximize the post-saccadic probability of identifying targets.

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Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, New York, USA.


Researchers have conjectured that eye movements during visual search are selected to minimize the number of saccades. The optimal Bayesian eye movement strategy minimizing saccades does not simply direct the eye to whichever location is judged most likely to contain the target but makes use of the entire retina as an information gathering device during each fixation. Here we show that human observers do not minimize the expected number of saccades in planning saccades in a simple visual search task composed of three tokens. In this task, the optimal eye movement strategy varied, depending on the spacing between tokens (in the first experiment) or the size of tokens (in the second experiment), and changed abruptly once the separation or size surpassed a critical value. None of our observers changed strategy as a function of separation or size. Human performance fell far short of ideal, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

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