Look at what I can do: Object affordances guide visual attention while speakers describe potential actions


As we act on the world around us, our eyes seek out objects we plan to interact with. A growing body of evidence suggests that overt visual attention selects objects in the environment that could be interacted with, even when the task precludes physical interaction. In previous work, objects that afford grasping interactions influenced attention when static scenes depicted reachable spaces, and attention was otherwise better explained by general informativeness. Because grasping is but one of many object interactions, previous work may have downplayed the influence of object affordances on attention. The current study investigated the relationship between overt visual attention and object affordances versus broadly construed semantic information in scenes as speakers describe or memorize scenes. In addition to meaning and grasp maps—which capture informativeness and grasping object affordances in scenes, respectively—we introduce interact maps, which capture affordances more broadly. In a mixed-effects analysis of 5 eyetracking experiments, we found that meaning predicted fixated locations in a general description task and during scene memorization. Grasp maps marginally predicted fixated locations during action description for scenes that depicted reachable spaces only. Interact maps predicted fixated regions in description experiments alone. Our findings suggest observers allocate attention to scene regions that could be readily interacted with when talking about the scene, while general informativeness preferentially guides attention when the task does not encourage careful consideration of objects in the scene. The current study suggests that the influence of object affordances on visual attention in scenes is mediated by task demands.

Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics