Asymmetries in visual search: an introduction

Percept Psychophys. 2001 Apr;63(3):381-9. doi: 10.3758/bf03194406.


In visual search tasks, observers look for a target stimulus among distractor stimuli. A visual search asymmetry is said to occur when a search for stimulus A among stimulus B produces different results from a search for B among A. Anne Treisman made search asymmetries into an important tool in the study of visual attention. She argued that it was easier to find a target that was defined by the presence of a preattentive basic feature than to find a target defined by the absence of that feature. Four of the eight papers in this symposium in Perception & Psychophysics deal with the use of search asymmetries to identify stimulus attributes that behave as basic features in this context. Another two papers deal with the long-standing question of whether a novelty can be considered to be a basic feature. Asymmetries can also arise when one type of stimulus is easier to identify or classify than another. Levin and Angelone's paper on visual search for faces of different races is an examination of an asymmetry of this variety. Finally, Previc and Naegele investigate an asymmetry based on the spatial location of the target. Taken as a whole, these papers illustrate the continuing value of the search asymmetry paradigm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Humans
  • Orientation
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Psychophysics