Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 81, Issue 1, pp 47–60 | Cite as

Measuring the time course of selection during visual search

  • Evan M. PalmerEmail author
  • Michael J. Van Wert
  • Todd S. Horowitz
  • Jeremy M. Wolfe


In visual search tasks, observers can guide their attention towards items in the visual field that share features with the target item. In this series of studies, we examined the time course of guidance toward a subset of items that have the same color as the target item. Landolt Cs were placed on 16 colored disks. Fifteen distractor Cs had gaps facing up or down while one target C had a gap facing left or right. Observers searched for the target C and reported which side contained the gap as quickly as possible. In the absence of other information, observers must search at random through the Cs. However, during the trial, the disks changed colors. Twelve disks were now of one color and four disks were of another color. Observers knew that the target C would always be in the smaller color set. The experimental question was how quickly observers could guide their attention to the smaller color set. Results indicate that observers could not make instantaneous use of color information to guide the search, even when they knew which two colors would be appearing on every trial. In each study, it took participants 200–300 ms to fully utilize the color information once presented. Control studies replicated the finding with more saturated colors and with colored C stimuli (rather than Cs on colored disks). We conclude that segregation of a display by color for the purposes of guidance takes 200–300 ms to fully develop.


Visual search Attention: Selective Attention 


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Evan M. Palmer
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Michael J. Van Wert
    • 1
  • Todd S. Horowitz
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jeremy M. Wolfe
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Visual Attention LabBrigham & Women’s HospitalBostonUSA
  2. 2.Departments of Radiology and OphthalmologyHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologySan José State UniversitySan JoseUSA

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