Signal detection evidence for limited capacity in visual search
Palmer, Evan M.
Fencsik, David E.
Flusberg, Stephen J.
Horowitz, Todd S.
Wolfe, Jeremy M.
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Palmer E.M., Fencsik D.E., Flusberg S.J., Horowitz T.S., and Wolfe J.M. 2011. "Signal detection evidence for limited capacity in visual search". Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics. 73 (8): 2413-2424.
The nature of capacity limits (if any) in visual search has been a topic of controversy for decades. In 30 years of work, researchers have attempted to distinguish between two broad classes of visual search models. Attention-limited models have proposed two stages of perceptual processing: an unlimited-capacity preattentive stage, and a limited-capacity selective attention stage. Conversely, noise-limited models have proposed a single, unlimited-capacity perceptual processing stage, with decision processes influenced only by stochastic noise. Here, we use signal detection methods to test a strong prediction of attention-limited models. In standard attention-limited models, performance of some searches (feature searches) should only be limited by a preattentive stage. Other search tasks (e.g., spatial configuration search for a "2" among "5"s) should be additionally limited by an attentional bottleneck. We equated average accuracies for a feature and a spatial configuration s! earch over set sizes of 1-8 for briefly presented stimuli. The strong prediction of attention-limited models is that, given overall equivalence in performance, accuracy should be better on the spatial configuration search than on the feature search for set size 1, and worse for set size 8. We confirm this crossover interaction and show that it is problematic for at least one class of one-stage decision models.
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