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J Vis. 2016 Sep 1;16(11):13. doi: 10.1167/16.11.13.

Salient in space, salient in time: Fixation probability predicts fixation duration during natural scene viewing.


During natural scene viewing, humans typically attend and fixate selected locations for about 200-400 ms. Two variables characterize such "overt" attention: the probability of a location being fixated, and the fixation's duration. Both variables have been widely researched, but little is known about their relation. We use a two-step approach to investigate the relation between fixation probability and duration. In the first step, we use a large corpus of fixation data. We demonstrate that fixation probability (empirical salience) predicts fixation duration across different observers and tasks. Linear mixed-effects modeling shows that this relation is explained neither by joint dependencies on simple image features (luminance, contrast, edge density) nor by spatial biases (central bias). In the second step, we experimentally manipulate some of these features. We find that fixation probability from the corpus data still predicts fixation duration for this new set of experimental data. This holds even if stimuli are deprived of low-level images features, as long as higher level scene structure remains intact. Together, this shows a robust relation between fixation duration and probability, which does not depend on simple image features. Moreover, the study exemplifies the combination of empirical research on a large corpus of data with targeted experimental manipulations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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