The interplay between gaze and consistency in scene viewing: Evidence from visual search by young and older adults

Eunice Fernandes* (Corresponding Author), Louise Phillips, Gillian Slessor, Benjamin Tatler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


Searching for an object in a complex scene is influenced by high-level factors such as how much the item would be expected in that setting (semantic consistency). There is also evidence that a person gazing at an object directs our attention towards it. However, there has been little previous research that has helped to understand how we integrate top-down cues such as semantic consistency and gaze to direct attention when searching for an object. Also, there are separate lines of evidence to suggest that older adults may be more influenced by semantic factors and less by gaze cues compared to younger counterparts, but this has not been investigated before in an integrated task. In the current study we analysed eye-movements of 34 younger and 30 older adults as they searched for a target object in complex visual scenes. Younger adults were influenced by semantic consistency in their attention to objects, but were more influenced by gaze cues. In contrast, older adults were more guided by semantic consistency in directing their attention, and showed less influence from gaze cues. These age differences in use of high-level cues were apparent early in processing (time to first fixation and probability of immediate fixation) but not in later processing (total time looking at objects and time to make a response). Overall, this pattern of findings indicates that people are influenced by both social cues and prior expectations when processing a complex scene, and the relative importance of these factors depends on age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1954–1970
Number of pages17
JournalAttention, Perception & Psychophysics
Early online date21 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021


  • scene viewing
  • visual search
  • gaze following
  • Semantic Consistency
  • Ageing


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