Driving forces in free visual search: An ethology

W. Joseph MacInnes, Amelia R. Hunt, Matthew D. Hilchey, Raymond M. Klein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


Visual search typically involves sequences of eye movements under the constraints of a specific scene and specific goals. Visual search has been used as an experimental paradigm to study the interplay of scene salience and top-down goals, as well as various aspects of vision, attention, and memory, usually by introducing a secondary task or by controlling and manipulating the search environment. An ethology is a study of an animal in its natural environment, and here we examine the fixation patterns of the human animal searching a series of challenging illustrated scenes that are well-known in popular culture. The search was free of secondary tasks, probes, and other distractions. Our goal was to describe saccadic behavior, including patterns of fixation duration, saccade amplitude, and angular direction. In particular, we employed both new and established techniques for identifying top-down strategies, any influences of bottom-up image salience, and the midlevel attentional effects of saccadic momentum and inhibition of return. The visual search dynamics that we observed and quantified demonstrate that saccades are not independently generated and incorporate distinct influences from strategy, salience, and attention. Sequential dependencies consistent with inhibition of return also emerged from our analyses.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)280-295
Number of pages16
JournalAttention, Perception & Psychophysics
Issue number2
Early online date3 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • visual search
  • ethology
  • free search
  • inhibition of return
  • Saccadic momentum


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