Human visual search behaviour is far from ideal

Anna Nowakowska* (Corresponding Author), Alasdair D. F. Clarke, Amelia R. Hunt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
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Evolutionary pressures have made foraging behaviors highly efficient in many species. Eye movements during search present a useful instance of foraging behavior in humans. We tested the efficiency of eye movements during search using homogeneous and heterogeneous arrays of line segments. The search target is visible in the periphery on the homogeneous array, but requires central vision to be detected on the heterogeneous array. For a compound search array that is heterogeneous on one side and homogeneous on the other, eye movements should be directed only to the heterogeneous side. Instead, participants made many fixations on the homogeneous side. By comparing search of compound arrays to an estimate of search performance based on uniform arrays, we isolate two contributions to search inefficiency. First, participants make superfluous fixations, sacrificing speed for a perceived (but not actual) gain in response certainty. Second, participants fixate the homogeneous side even more frequently than predicted by inefficient search of uniform arrays, suggesting they also fail to direct fixations to locations that yield the most new information.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20162767
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London. B, Biological Sciences
Early online date15 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2017

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank the James S McDonnell Foundation (Scholar Award to A.R.H.) and the Economic and Social Research Council (Phd Studentship to A.N.).
Data Accessibility. The full set of data is available on the Open Science Framework.


  • visual search
  • optimal behaviour
  • eye movements


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