Target templates: the precision of mental representations affects attentional guidance and decision-making in visual search
When people look for things in the environment, they use target templates—mental representations of the objects they are attempting to locate—to guide attention and to assess incoming visual input as potential targets. However, unlike laboratory participants, searchers in the real world rarely have perfect knowledge regarding the potential appearance of targets. In seven experiments, we examined how the precision of target templates affects the ability to conduct visual search. Specifically, we degraded template precision in two ways: 1) by contaminating searchers’ templates with inaccurate features, and 2) by introducing extraneous features to the template that were unhelpful. We recorded eye movements to allow inferences regarding the relative extents to which attentional guidance and decision-making are hindered by template imprecision. Our findings support a dual-function theory of the target template and highlight the importance of examining template precision in visual search.