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J Vis. 2014 Feb 25;14(2). pii: 20. doi: 10.1167/14.2.20.

Spatial biases in viewing behavior.

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Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Osnabrück, Osnabrück, Germany.


Viewing behavior exhibits temporal and spatial structure that is independent of stimulus content and task goals. One example of such structure is horizontal biases, which are likely rooted in left-right asymmetries of the visual and attentional systems. Here, we studied the existence, extent, and mechanisms of this bias. Left- and right-handed subjects explored scenes from different image categories, presented in original and mirrored versions. We also varied the spatial spectral content of the images and the timing of stimulus onset. We found a marked leftward bias at the start of exploration that was independent of image category. This left bias was followed by a weak bias to the right that persisted for several seconds. This asymmetry was found in the majority of right-handers but not in left-handers. Neither low- nor high-pass filtering of the stimuli influenced the bias. This argues against mechanisms related to the hemispheric segregation of global versus local visual processing. Introducing a delay in stimulus onset after offset of a central fixation spot also had no influence. The bias was present even when stimuli were presented continuously and without any requirement to fixate, associated to both fixation- and saccade-contingent image changes. This suggests the bias is not caused by structural asymmetries in fixation control. Instead the pervasive horizontal bias is compatible with known asymmetries of higher-level attentional areas related to the detection of novel events.


eye movements; free-viewing; spatial bias

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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