The interaction between social saliency and perceptual saliency

Minghui Liu, Jie Sui*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The ability to select visual targets in hierarchical stimuli can be affected by both perceptual saliency and social saliency. However, the functional relations between the effects are not understood. Here we examined whether these two factors interact or combine in an additive way. Participants first learnt to associate geometric shapes with three people (e.g., triangle–self, square–stranger). After learning the associations, participants were presented with compound stimuli (e.g., a global triangle formed by a set of local squares) and had to select a target at the global or local level. In Experiment 1 the task was to identify the person associated with the local or global shape. In Experiment 2 the task was simply to identify the shape. We manipulated perceptual saliency by blurring local elements to form perceptually global salient stimuli or by contrasting the colours of neighbouring local elements (red vs. white) to form perceptually local salient stimuli. In Experiment 1 (person discrimination) there was a strong effect of saliency on local targets (there were faster and more accurate responses to high than to low saliency targets) when social and perceptual saliency occurred at same level. However, both perceptual and social saliency effects were eliminated when the effect of saliency at one level competed with that at the other level. In Experiment 2 (shape discrimination), there were only effects of perceptual saliency. The data indicate that social saliency interacts with perceptual saliency when explicit social categorizations are made, consistent with both factors modulating a common process of visual selection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2419-2430
Number of pages12
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number12
Early online date25 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by the National Nature Science Foundation of China [Project 31371017]; and by the Economic and Social Research Council [grant number ES/J001597/1, UK].


  • Social saliency
  • Perceptual saliency
  • Attentional selection


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