Distractor familiarity leads to more efficient visual search for complex stimuli

Percept Psychophys. 2005 Aug;67(6):1016-31. doi: 10.3758/bf03193628.


Previous reports suggest that distractor familiarity plays an important role in determining visual search efficiency. However, the specific tasks used in those studies limit the extension of their findings to real-world situations and everyday images. In the present study, subjects engaged in a prolonged period of search experience as a control of their level of familiarity with a large set of target and distractor images. Reaction times and search slopes decreased dramatically over this period, especially for trials with a large target eccentricity and many distractors. Following extended practice, search among familiar distractors was more efficient than search among unfamiliar distractors. Furthermore, we found that familiar targets were located more efficiently than unfamiliar targets and that subjects were faster at locating targets that they had experienced in the majority of the search trials. These results show that prolonged visual experience facilitates processing of both target and distractor items during search.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Visual Perception*