Typicality aids search for an unspecified target, but only in identification and not in attentional guidance

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Participants searched for a picture of an object, and the object was either a typical or an atypical category member. The object was cued by either the picture or its basic-level category name. Of greatest interest was whether it would be easier to search for typical objects than to search for atypical objects. The answer was “yes,” but only in a qualified sense: There was a large typicality effect on response time only for name cues, and almost none of the effect was found in the time to locate (i.e., first fixate) the target. Instead, typicality influenced verification time—the time to respond to the target once it was fixated. Typicality is thus apparently irrelevant when the target is well specified by a picture cue; even when the target is underspecified (as with a name cue), it does not aid attentional guidance, but only facilitates categorization.


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Correspondence to Monica S. Castelhano.

Additional information

This study was supported by a grant from the Microsoft Corporation to Keith Rayner.

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Castelhano, M.S., Pollatsek, A. & Cave, K.R. Typicality aids search for an unspecified target, but only in identification and not in attentional guidance. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 15, 795–801 (2008).

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  • Visual Search
  • Typical Object
  • Typical Target
  • Conjunctive Search
  • Search Array