Examining perceptual and conceptual set biases in multiple-target visual search.


Journal Article

Visual search is a common practice conducted countless times every day, and one important aspect of visual search is that multiple targets can appear in a single search array. For example, an X-ray image of airport luggage could contain both a water bottle and a gun. Searchers are more likely to miss additional targets after locating a first target in multiple-target searches, which presents a potential problem: If airport security officers were to find a water bottle, would they then be more likely to miss a gun? One hypothetical cause of multiple-target search errors is that searchers become biased to detect additional targets that are similar to a found target, and therefore become less likely to find additional targets that are dissimilar to the first target. This particular hypothesis has received theoretical, but little empirical, support. In the present study, we tested the bounds of this idea by utilizing "big data" obtained from the mobile application Airport Scanner. Multiple-target search errors were substantially reduced when the two targets were identical, suggesting that the first-found target did indeed create biases during subsequent search. Further analyses delineated the nature of the biases, revealing both a perceptual set bias (i.e., a bias to find additional targets with features similar to those of the first-found target) and a conceptual set bias (i.e., a bias to find additional targets with a conceptual relationship to the first-found target). These biases are discussed in terms of the implications for visual-search theories and applications for professional visual searchers.

Full Text

Cited Authors

  • Biggs, AT; Adamo, SH; Dowd, EW; Mitroff, SR

Published Date

  • April 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 77 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 844 - 855

PubMed ID

  • 25678271

Pubmed Central ID

  • 25678271

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1943-393X

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1943-3921

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.3758/s13414-014-0822-0


  • eng