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On the relative (un)importance of foveal vision during letter search in naturalistic scenes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-55
Number of pages15
JournalVision Research
Early online date19 Sep 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Sep 2020


The importance of high-acuity foveal vision to visual search can be assessed by denying foveal vision using the gaze-contingent Moving Mask technique. Foveal vision was necessary to attain normal performance when searching for a target letter in alphanumeric displays, Perception & Psychophysics, 62 (2000) 576-585. In contrast, foveal vision was not necessary to correctly locate and identify medium-sized target objects in natural scenes, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 40 (2014) 342-32 360. To explore these task differences, we used grayscale pictures of real-world scenes which included a target letter (Experiment 1: T, Experiment 2: T or L). To reduce between-scene variability with regard to target salience, we developed the Target Embedding Algorithm (T.E.A.) to place the letter in a location for which there was a median change in local contrast when inserting the letter into the scene. The presence or absence of foveal vision was crossed with four target sizes. In both experiments, search performance decreased for smaller targets, and was impaired when searching the scene without foveal vision. For correct trials, the process of target localization remained completely unimpaired by the foveal scotoma, but it took longer to accept the target. We reasoned that the size of the target may affect the importance of foveal vision to the task, but the present data remain ambiguous. In summary, the data highlight the importance of extrafoveal vision for target localization, and the importance of foveal vision for target verification during letter-in-scene search.

    Research areas

  • naturalistic scenes, visual search, target size, eye movements, foveal vision

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