, Volume 75, Issue 2, pp 299-307
Date: 30 Nov 2012

Visual search in divided areas: Dividers initially interfere with and later facilitate visual search


A common search paradigm requires observers to search for a target among undivided spatial arrays of many items. Yet our visual environment is populated with items that are typically arranged within smaller (subdivided) spatial areas outlined by dividers (e.g., frames). It remains unclear how dividers impact visual search performance. In this study, we manipulated the presence and absence of frames and the number of frames subdividing search displays. Observers searched for a target O among Cs, a typically inefficient search task, and for a target C among Os, a typically efficient search. The results indicated that the presence of divider frames in a search display initially interferes with visual search tasks when targets are quickly detected (i.e., efficient search), leading to early interference; conversely, frames later facilitate visual search in tasks in which targets take longer to detect (i.e., inefficient search), leading to late facilitation. Such interference and facilitation appear only for conditions with a specific number of frames. Relative to previous studies of grouping (due to item proximity or similarity), these findings suggest that frame enclosures of multiple items may induce a grouping effect that influences search performance.