Preemption effects in visual search: evidence for low-level grouping

Psychol Rev. 1995 Jan;102(1):101-30. doi: 10.1037/0033-295x.102.1.101.


Experiments are presented showing that visual search for Mueller-Lyer stimuli is based on complete configurations rather than component segments. Segments easily detected in isolation were difficult to detect when embedded in a configuration, indicating preemption by low-level groups. This preemption--which caused stimulus components to become inaccessible to rapid search--was an all-or-nothing effect and so could serve as a powerful test of grouping. It is shown that these effects are unlikely to be due to blurring by simple spatial filters at early visual levels. It is proposed instead that they are due to more sophisticated processes that rapidly blind contour fragments into spatially extended assemblies. These results support the view that rapid visual search cannot access the primitive elements formed at the earliest stages of visual processing; rather, it can access only higher level, more ecologically relevant structures.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Field Dependence-Independence*
  • Humans
  • Optical Illusions*
  • Orientation
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Reaction Time
  • Size Perception