Surprising depth cue captures attention in visual search

Brief Report


A substantial amount of evidence indicates that surprising events capture attention. The present study was primarily intended to investigate whether expectancy discrepant depth information also is able to capture attention immediately and—more specifically—whether cues that are relatively closer or farther differentially modulate behavior. For this purpose, participants had to identify one of two target letters in a search display. Stimulus positions were initially cued by uninformative placeholders. After half of the trials, the cue at the target position was suddenly and unexpectedly (critical trial) displayed closer to or farther from the observer. In line with previous research, both depth cues captured attention on their very first appearance. Performance in the critical trial was superior to the error rates in the trials without depth cue and was even above the performance in subsequent trials that included depth cue. This effect was only observed when the cue preceded the target by 400 ms. Using a shorter cue-stimulus interval of 100 ms, only a delayed improvement was observed, which denotes a typical feature of surprise capture. Moreover, response times were faster in trials comprising a depth cue, and this was already true for the critical trial. Apart from that, no other marked differences between near and far depth cues were observed. Therefore, the present results emphasize that surprising depth information indeed captures attention. However, in contrast to other perceptual tasks, search performance was not considerably influenced by relative position in depth.


Attentional capture 3D Visual search Surprise 



This work was supported by the “Research Training Group 1855” founded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the “Center of Excellence for Logistics and IT” founded by the Ministry for Innovation, Science and Research of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The authors thank Tanja Groß and Martin Behrendt for their support of the data collection.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ErgonomicsLeibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human FactorsDortmundGermany

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