Spatial probability as an attentional cue in visual search

Percept Psychophys. 2005 Oct;67(7):1252-68. doi: 10.3758/bf03193557.


We investigated the role of spatial probabilities in target location during participants' performance of a visual search task. Experiments 1 and 2 demonstrated that spatial probabilities could serve as a powerful attentional bias that produced faster detection of targets in high-probability locations than of those in low- or random-probability locations. The effect could not be explained by repetition priming alone. Moreover, responses to targets in low-probability locations were slowed only when a distractor was present in the high-probability location. In Experiments 3-5, we compared the effects of spatial probability with an explicit endogenous cue and a salient exogenous cue. Facilitation due to spatial probability was independent of any benefit afforded by the explicit endogenous cue but interacted with the salient exogenous cue, such that the exogenous cue validity effect was compressed for targets in the high-probability location. Together, these results suggest that the spatial probabilities governing target location constitute a potent bias of visual processing and, as such, can be considered an attentional cue that differs from both typical explicit endogenous and salient exogenous cues.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Probability
  • Reaction Time
  • Space Perception*
  • Visual Perception*