Control of attention and gaze in complex environments

J Vis. 2006 Dec 15;6(12):1431-50. doi: 10.1167/6.12.9.


In natural behavior, fixation patterns are tightly linked to the ongoing task. However, a critical problem for task-driven systems is dealing with unexpected stimuli. We studied the effect of unexpected potential collisions with pedestrians on the distribution of gaze of subjects walking in a virtual environment. Pedestrians on a collision course with the subject were surprisingly ineffective in evoking fixations, especially when subjects were additionally occupied with another task, suggesting that potential collisions do not automatically attract attention. However, prior fixations on pedestrians did increase collision detection performance. Additionally, the detection of potential collisions led to a short-term change in the strategy of looking at subsequent pedestrians. The overall pattern of results is consistent with the hypothesis that subjects typically rely on mechanisms that are initiated top-down to detect unexpected events such as potential collisions. For this to be effective, subjects must learn an appropriate schedule for initiating search through experience with the probabilities of environmental events.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Environment*
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Saccades / physiology
  • User-Computer Interface*
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Walking