Language-induced visual and semantic biases in visual search are subject to task requirements

Floor de Groot, Falk Huettig, Christian N.L. Olivers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Visual attention is biased by both visual and semantic representations activated by words. We investigated to what extent language-induced visual and semantic biases are subject to task demands. Participants memorized a spoken word for a verbal recognition task, and performed a visual search task during the retention period. Crucially, while the word had to be remembered in all conditions, it was either relevant for the search (as it also indicated the target) or irrelevant (as it only served the memory test afterwards). On critical trials, displays contained objects that were visually or semantically related to the memorized word. When the word was relevant for the search, eye movement biases towards visually related objects arose earlier and more strongly than biases towards semantically related objects. When the word was irrelevant there was still evidence for visual and semantic biases, but these biases were substantially weaker and similar in strength and temporal dynamics without a visual advantage. We conclude that language-induced attentional biases are subject to task requirements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-240
Number of pages16
JournalVisual Cognition
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - 2017


This work was supported by de Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, NWO) under grant 404-10-321 to CNLO and FH and an European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant 615423 awarded to CNLO.

FundersFunder number
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
European Research Council615423
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek404-10-321


    • cognitive control
    • eye movements
    • semantics
    • Visual selective attention


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