Priming and the guidance by visual and categorical templates in visual search

A.M. Wilschut, J. Theeuwes, C.N.L. Olivers

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Visual search is thought to be guided by top-down templates that are held in visual working memory. Previous studies have shown that a search-guiding template can be rapidly and strongly implemented from a visual cue, whereas templates are less effective when based on categorical cues. Direct visual priming from cue to target may underlie this difference. In two experiments we first asked observers to remember two possible target colors. A postcue then indicated which of the two would be the relevant color. The task was to locate a briefly presented and masked target of the cued color among irrelevant distractor items. Experiment 1 showed that overall search accuracy improved more rapidly on the basis of a direct visual postcue that carried the target color, compared to a neutral postcue that pointed to the memorized color. However, selectivity toward the target feature, i.e., the extent to which observers searched selectively among items of the cued vs. uncued color, was found to be relatively unaffected by the presence of the visual signal. In Experiment 2 we compared search that was based on either visual or categorical information, but now controlled for direct visual priming. This resulted in no differences in overall performance nor selectivity. Altogether the results suggest that perceptual processing of visual search targets is facilitated by priming from visual cues, whereas attentional selectivity is enhanced by a working memory template that can formed from both visual and categorical input. Furthermore, if the priming is controlled for, categorical- and visual-based templates similarly enhance search guidance. © 2014 Wilschut, Theeuwes and Olivers.
Original languageEnglish
Article number148
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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