Memory processes in multiple-target visual search
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Gibson, Li, Skow, Brown, and Cooke (Psychological Science, 11, 324–327, 2000) had participants carry out a search task in which they were required to detect the presence of one or two targets. In order to successfully perform such a multiple-target visual search task, participants had to remember the location of the first target while searching for the second target. In two experiments we investigated the cost of remembering this target location. In Experiment 1, we compared performance on the Gibson et al. task with performance on a more conventional present–absent search task. The comparison suggests a substantial performance cost as measured by reaction time, number of fixations and slope of the search functions. In Experiment 2, we looked in detail at refixations of distractors, which are a direct measure of attentional deployment. We demonstrated that the cost in this multiple-target visual search task was due to an increased number of refixations on previously visited distractors. Such refixations were present right from the start of the search. This change in search behaviour may be caused by the necessity of having to remember a target-allocating memory for the upcoming target may consume memory capacity that may otherwise be available for the tagging of distractors. These results support the notion of limited capacity memory processes in search.
KeywordsVisual Search Search Task Memory Capacity Display Size Search Performance
Supported by grants from the European Community (HPMF-CT-2000-00986) and from the Welcome Trust. We thank Ignace Hooge and Jeremy Wolfe for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.
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