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Boundary conditions on parallel processing in human vision.
Perception, 18, 457-469.
Year of publication:
A new theory of visual search is tested experimentally with simple colour patches. The essential idea is that, whatever the search materials, efficiency increases continuously with (i) decreasing similarity between targets and nontargets, and (ii) increasing similarity between one nontarget and another. Control of 'attention' is seen as a competitive interaction between display elements, with stimulus similarities determining the outcome. One alternative view is that parallel visual processes are limited to local mismatch detection. It is shown, however, that even absolute colour identification can be parallel, providing targets and nontargets are sufficiently dissimilar. A second alternative view is that search for simple features is parallel whereas search for conjunctions is serial. Conjunction search, however, has a characteristic similarity structure: different kinds of nontarget each share one relevant attribute with the target, but none with one another. When this structure is mimicked in search for colour patches, correspondingly poor performance is obtained.