Extra-foveal processing of object semantics guides early overt attention during visual search

Francesco Cimminella, Sergio Della Sala, Moreno Coco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Eye-tracking studies using arrays of objects have demonstrated that some high-level processing of object semantics can occur in extra-foveal vision, but its role on the allocation of early overt attention is still unclear. This eye-tracking visual search study contributes novel findings by examining the role of object-to-object semantic relatedness and visual saliency on search responses and eye-movement behaviour across arrays of increasing size (3, 5, 7). Our data show that a critical object was looked at earlier and for longer when it was semantically unrelated than related to the other objects in the display, both when it was the search target (target-present trials) and when it was a target’s semantically related competitor (target-absent trials). Semantic relatedness effects manifested already during the very first fixation after array onset, were consistently found for increasing set sizes, and were independent of low-level visual saliency, which did not play any role. We conclude that object semantics can be extracted early in extra-foveal vision and capture overt attention from the very first fixation. These findings pose a challenge to models of visual attention which assume that overt attention is guided by the visual appearance of stimuli, rather than by their semantics.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Early online date2 Dec 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Dec 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • visual search
  • eye movements
  • object semantics
  • early overt attention
  • extrafoveal vision


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