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Journal Article

Determining subprocesses of visual feature search with reaction time models


Müller-Plath,  Gisela
MPI of Cognitive Neuroscience (Leipzig, -2003), The Prior Institutes, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Müller-Plath, G., & Pollmann, S. (2003). Determining subprocesses of visual feature search with reaction time models. Psychological Research: Neuroimaging, 123(3), 207-211. doi:10.1007/s00426-002-0109-2.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0010-A97C-F
After the classic serial/parallel dichotomy of visual search mechanisms has been increasingly doubted, we investigated what search mechanisms are used between the two poles termed "pop-out" and "strictly serial search" in an overt feature search paradigm. Since reaction time slopes do not contain sufficient information for this purpose, we developed a novel technique for analyzing reaction times. Individual reaction times are modeled as sums of the durations of successive search steps. Model parameters are task characteristics (similarity, number and arrangement of target and distractors) and processing characteristics of the participant (e.g., attention dwell and shift durations). In Experiment 1, several model variants were fitted numerically to empirical reaction times. The best fitting model suggested that more than one item can be processed in a single fixation, movement of attention is abrupt and not continuous, and even in pop out search, attention is often explicitly moved to the target. In Experiment 2, we measured the central model parameter, the so-called range of attention, more directly and thereby validated the model. The model provides an explanation for the strong variation in the slope of reaction time functions, which is not based on an explicit distinction between parallel and serial search processes.