Abrupt visual onsets and selective attention: evidence from visual search

J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 1984 Oct;10(5):601-21. doi: 10.1037//0096-1523.10.5.601.


The effect of temporal discontinuity on visual search was assessed by presenting a display in which one item had an abrupt onset, while other items were introduced by gradually removing line segments that camouflaged them. We hypothesized that an abrupt onset in a visual display would capture visual attention, giving this item a processing advantage over items lacking an abrupt leading edge. This prediction was confirmed in Experiment 1. We designed a second experiment to ensure that this finding was due to attentional factors rather than to sensory or perceptual ones. Experiment 3 replicated Experiment 1 and demonstrated that the procedure used to avoid abrupt onset--camouflage removal--did not require a gradual waveform. Implications of these findings for theories of attention are discussed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Form Perception
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motion Perception
  • Perceptual Masking*
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time
  • Visual Perception*