The behavioral urgency of objects approaching your avatar

D.B.B. Schreij, C.N.L. Olivers

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The behavioral-urgency hypothesis (Franconeri & Simons, Psychological Science, 19, 686–692, 2003) states that dynamic visual properties capture human visual attention if they signal the need for immediate action. The seminal example is the potential collision of a looming object with one’s body. However, humans are also capable of identifying with entities outside one’s own body. Here we report evidence that behavioral urgency transfers to an avatar in a simple 2-D computer game. By controlling the avatar, the participant responded to shape changes of the target in a visual search task. Simultaneously, and completely irrelevant to the task, one of the objects on screen could move. Responses were overall fastest when the target happened to be the moving object and was on a collision course with the avatar, as compared to when the moving target just passed by the avatar or moved away from it. The effects on search efficiency were less consistent, except that search was more efficient overall whenever a target moved. Moreover, response speeding was frequently accompanied by an increase in errors, consistent with recent evidence that the urgency of looming is at least to a large extent expressed in response processes rather than in perceptual selection of the looming object. Thus, a general version of the behavioral-urgency hypothesis also holds for external entities with which the observer can identify.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2669-2683
JournalAttention, Perception & Psychophysics
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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