Cognitive Computation

, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 48–63 | Cite as

If Visual Saliency Predicts Search, Then Why? Evidence from Normal and Gaze-Contingent Search Tasks in Natural Scenes

  • Tom FoulshamEmail author
  • Geoffrey Underwood


The Itti and Koch (Vision Research 40: 1489–1506, 2000) saliency map model has inspired a wealth of research testing the claim that bottom-up saliency determines the placement of eye fixations in natural scenes. Although saliency seems to correlate with (although not necessarily cause) fixation in free-viewing or encoding tasks, it has been suggested that visual saliency can be overridden in a search task, with saccades being planned on the basis of target features, rather than being captured by saliency. Here, we find that target regions of a scene that are salient according to this model are found quicker than control regions (Experiment 1). However, this does not seem to be altered by filtering features in the periphery using a gaze-contingent display (Experiment 2), and a deeper analysis of the eye movements made suggests that the saliency effect is instead due to the meaning of the scene regions. Experiment 3 supports this interpretation, showing that scene inversion reduces the saliency effect. These results suggest that saliency effects on search may have nothing to do with bottom-up saccade guidance.


Attention Scene perception Saliency map models Eye movements Visual search 



TF is supported by a Commonwealth Fellowship from the Government of Canada. GJU was supported by project grant EP/E006329/1 from the EPSRC (UK). We are also grateful to Laurent Itti et al. for making the saliency map model available, and the comments of an anonymous reviewer.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK

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