Meaning guides attention during scene viewing, even when it is irrelevant


During real-world scene viewing, humans must prioritize scene regions for attention. What are the roles of low-level image salience and high-level semantic meaning in attentional prioritization? A previous study suggested that when salience and meaning are directly contrasted in scene memorization and preference tasks, attentional priority is assigned by meaning (Henderson & Hayes in Nature Human Behaviour, 1, 743–747, 2017). Here we examined the role of meaning in attentional guidance using two tasks in which meaning was irrelevant and salience was relevant: a brightness rating task and a brightness search task. Meaning was represented by meaning maps that captured the spatial distribution of semantic features. Meaning was contrasted with image salience, represented by saliency maps. Critically, both maps were represented similarly, allowing us to directly compare how meaning and salience influenced the spatial distribution of attention, as measured by fixation density maps. Our findings suggest that even in tasks for which meaning is irrelevant and salience is relevant, meaningful scene regions are prioritized for attention over salient scene regions. These results support theories in which scene semantics play a dominant role in attentional guidance in scenes.

Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics