What is it about?

We investigated which features of simple 2D shapes can guide visual attention during visual search. Since shapes contain different features (e.g., edges and corners, tops and bases, a global orientation). Therefore, it was previously unclear which features can guide visual attention and which can only be used for search. The results showed that the global outline and the global orientation of a shape guide visual attention and that their guidance depends on the current search goals. However, a specific pointing direction did not selectively guide attention, indicating a limitation of attentional guidance in humans.

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Why is it important?

Visual attention (i.e., the selective perception of some stimuli over others) is crucial for effective behavior since our environment contains a plethora of (visual) stimuli. Therefore, understanding the mechanisms of visual attention helps designing visual environments (e.g., user interfaces, dashboards, cockpits) to facilitate successful performance. For example, the results of this paper showed that searching for an equilateral triangle pointing upwards elicited attentional guidance by an equilateral triangle pointing downwards. This result means that a specific pointing direction of an equilateral triangle can be used for search but not for attentional guidance. Thus, it is better to use entirely different shapes for visual elements on screens or in cockpits if humans should be able to distinguish those elements easily. Using shapes with different pointing directions might hinder fast discrimination.


This paper shows how a contingent-capture protocol can be used to gain insights into attentional guidance, which are difficult to obtain with other methods.

Markus Grüner

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Simple shapes guide visual attention based on their global outline or global orientation contingent on search goals., Journal of Experimental Psychology Human Perception & Performance, November 2021, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/xhp0000955.
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