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Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2006 Nov;59(11):1931-49.

Visual saliency and semantic incongruency influence eye movements when inspecting pictures.

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School of Psychology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK.


Models of low-level saliency predict that when we first look at a photograph our first few eye movements should be made towards visually conspicuous objects. Two experiments investigated this prediction by recording eye fixations while viewers inspected pictures of room interiors that contained objects with known saliency characteristics. Highly salient objects did attract fixations earlier than less conspicuous objects, but only in a task requiring general encoding of the whole picture. When participants were required to detect the presence of a small target, then the visual saliency of nontarget objects did not influence fixations. These results support modifications of the model that take the cognitive override of saliency into account by allowing task demands to reduce the saliency weights of task-irrelevant objects. The pictures sometimes contained incongruent objects that were taken from other rooms. These objects were used to test the hypothesis that previous reports of the early fixation of congruent objects have not been consistent because the effect depends upon the visual conspicuity of the incongruent object. There was an effect of incongruency in both experiments, with earlier fixation of objects that violated the gist of the scene, but the effect was only apparent for inconspicuous objects, which argues against the hypothesis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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