Meaning and expected surfaces combine to guide attention during visual search in scenes


How do spatial constraints and meaningful scene regions interact to control overt attention during visual search for objects in real-world scenes? To answer this question, we combined novel surface maps of the likely locations of target objects with maps of the spatial distribution of scene semantic content. The surface maps captured likely target surfaces as continuous probabilities. Meaning was represented by meaning maps highlighting the distribution of semantic content in local scene regions. Attention was indexed by eye movements during the search for target objects that varied in the likelihood they would appear on specific surfaces. The interaction between surface maps and meaning maps was analyzed to test whether fixations were directed to meaningful scene regions on target-related surfaces. Overall, meaningful scene regions were more likely to be fixated if they appeared on target-related surfaces than if they appeared on target-unrelated surfaces. These findings suggest that the visual system prioritizes meaningful scene regions on target-related surfaces during visual search in scenes.

Journal of Vision