Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 76, Issue 6, pp 1590–1608 | Cite as

Search asymmetry and eye movements in infants and adults

  • Scott A. AdlerEmail author
  • Pamela Gallego


Search asymmetry is characterized by the detection of a feature-present target amidst feature-absent distractors being efficient and unaffected by the number of distractors, whereas detection of a feature-absent target amidst feature-present distractors is typically inefficient and affected by the number of distractors. Although studies have attempted to investigate this phenomenon with infants (e.g., Adler, Inslicht, Rovee-Collier, & Gerhardstein in Infant Behavioral Development, 21, 253–272, 1998; Colombo, Mitchell, Coldren, & Atwater in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 19, 98–109, 1990), due to methodological limitations, their findings have been unable to definitively establish the development of visual search mechanisms in infants. The present study assessed eye movements as a means to examine an asymmetry in responding to feature-present versus feature-absent targets in 3-month-olds, relative to adults. Saccade latencies to localize a target (or a distractor, as in the homogeneous conditions) were measured as infants and adults randomly viewed feature-present (R among Ps), feature-absent (P among Rs), and homogeneous (either all Rs or all Ps) arrays at set sizes of 1, 3, 5, and 8. Results indicated that neither infants’ nor adults’ saccade latencies to localize the target in the feature-present arrays were affected by increasing set sizes, suggesting that localization of the target was efficient. In contrast, saccade latencies to localize the target in the feature-absent arrays increased with increasing set sizes for both infants and adults, suggesting an inefficient localization. These findings indicate that infants exhibit an asymmetry consistent with that found with adults, providing support for functional bottom-up selective attention mechanisms in early infancy.


Infants Development Visual search Eye movements Selective attention Saliency Bottom-up 



This research was supported by Grant No. R03-MH085994-01A1 from the National Institute of Mental Health awarded to the first author. An earlier version of these data was presented at the meeting of the Vision Science Society, Naples, FL, May 2011. We would like to thank Jeremy Wolfe, Ben Vincent, and two anonymous reviewers who provided insightful input that greatly improved this article. We would also like to thank all of the undergraduate students who helped in testing the infants. Most importantly we would like to thank the parents and infants for their participation, without whom none of this work would have been possible.


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© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

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