Temporal Organization of Color and Shape Processing During Visual Search

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The mechanisms guiding visual attention are of great interest within cognitive and perceptual psychology. Many researchers have proposed models of these mechanisms, which serve to both formalize their theories and to guide further empirical investigations. The assumption that a number of basic features are processed in parallel early in the attentional process is common among most models of visual attention and visual search. To date, much of the evidence for parallel processing has been limited to set-size manipulations. Unfortunately, set-size manipulations have been shown to be insufficient evidence for parallel processing. We applied Systems Factorial Technology, a general nonparametric framework, to test this assumption, specifically whether color and shape are processed in parallel or in serial, in three experiments representative of feature search, conjunctive search, and odd-one-out search, respectively. Our results provide strong evidence that color and shape information guides search through parallel processes. Furthermore, we found evidence for facilitation between color and shape when the target was known in advance but performance consistent with unlimited capacity, independent parallel processing in odd-one-out search. These results confirm core assumptions about color and shape feature processing instantiated in most models of visual search and provide more detailed clues about the manner in which color and shape information is combined to guide search.

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