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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2013 Dec;39(6):1516-24. doi: 10.1037/a0032182. Epub 2013 Mar 11.

In defense of the salience map: salience rather than visibility determines selection.

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Department of Cognitive Psychology, VU University.


The aim of the present study was to investigate whether time-dependent biases of oculomotor selection as typically observed during visual search are better accounted for by an absolute-processing-speed account (J. P. de Vries, I. T. C. Hooge, M. A. Wiering, & F. A. J. Verstraten, 2011, How longer saccade latencies lead to a competition for salience. Psychological Science, 22, 916-923) or a relative-salience account (e.g., M. Donk, & W. van Zoest, 2008, Effects of salience are short-lived. Psychological Science, 19, 733-739; M. Donk & W. van Zoest, 2011, No control in orientation search: The effects of instruction on oculomotor selection in visual search. Vision Research, 51, 2156-2166). In order to test these two models, we performed an experiment in which participants were instructed to make a speeded eye movement to any of two orientation singletons presented among a homogeneous set of vertically oriented background lines. One singleton, the fixed singleton, remained identical across conditions, whereas the other singleton, the variable singleton, varied such that its orientation contrast relative to the background lines was either smaller or larger than that of the fixed singleton. The results showed that the proportion of eye movements directed toward the fixed singleton varied substantially depending on the orientation contrast of the variable singleton. A model assuming selection behavior to be determined by relative salience provided a better fit to the individual data than the absolute processing speed model. These findings suggest that relative salience rather than the visibility of an element is crucial in determining temporal variations in oculomotor selection behavior and that an explanation of visual selection behavior is insufficient without the concept of a salience map.

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