Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Auditory, Tactile, and Multisensory Cues Facilitate Search for Dynamic Visual Stimuli

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Auditory, Tactile, and Multisensory Cues Facilitate Search for Dynamic Visual Stimuli

Article excerpt

Presenting an auditory or tactile cue in temporal synchrony with a change in the color of a visual target can facilitate participants' visual search performance. In the present study, we compared the magnitude of unimodal auditory, vibrotactile, and bimodal (i.e., multisensory) cuing benefits when the nonvisual cues were presented in temporal synchrony with the changing of the target's color (Experiments 1 and 2). The target (a horizontal or vertical line segment) was presented among a number of distractors (tilted line segments) that also changed color at various times. In Experiments 3 and 4, the cues were also made spatially informative with regard to the location of the visual target. The unimodal and bimodal cues gave rise to an equivalent (significant) facilitation of participants' visual search performance relative to a no-cue baseline condition. Making the unimodal auditory and vibrotactile cues spatially informative produced further performance improvements (on validly cued trials), as compared with cues that were spatially uninformative or otherwise spatially invalid. A final experiment was conducted in order to determine whether cue location (close to versus far from the visual display) would influence participants' visual search performance. Auditory cues presented close to the visual search display were found to produce significantly better performance than cues presented over headphones. Taken together, these results have implications for the design of nonvisual and multisensory warning signals used in complex visual displays.

Searching for a target defined by a conjunction of features in a complex and dynamically changing visual display often requires slow and exhaustive search. That is, each item in the search display has to be examined individually in order to determine whether it is a target (e.g., Treisman & Gelade, 1980; Treisman & Sato, 1990; for reviews, see Quinlan, 2003; Treisman, 1996). For interface operators, such as pilots and air traffic controllers, this can pose a major problem because successful conflict resolution often requires not only the rapid detection of potential threats but also the accurate interpretation of those threats (see Pawlak & Vicente, 1996; Previc, 2000; Vicente & Rasmussen, 1992). Under such conditions, the presentation of spatially informative cues may offer an effective means not only of reducing the time needed to detect potential threats but also of improving the subsequent discrimination of those threats. The presentation of spatially informative nonvisual cues-specifically, auditory cues that are colocalized with visual targets-has been shown to reduce visual search latencies by several thousand milliseconds for peripherally located visual targets (i.e., for targets presented at eccentricities exceeding 690° from central fixation; see, e.g., Perrott, Cisneros, McKinley, & D'Angelo, 1996; Perrott, Saberi, Brown, & Strybel, 1990; Perrot, Sadralodabai, Saberi, & Strybel, 1991). The presentation of spatially uninformative auditory cues has also been shown to reduce visual search latencies for visual targets presented in the central field by more than 200 msec (e.g., Dufour, 1999; Perrott et al., 1996; Perrott et al., 1990; Perrott et al., 1991).

For visual displays, such as computer monitors, one would expect the benefit of having auditory stimuli spatially colocalized with visual targets to be minimal, given that the average minimum audible angle threshold is approximately 1° (Perrott & Saberi, 1990), and computer monitors tend to be small and cluttered. However, the limitations of screen size, clutter, and human auditory localization ability do not appear to hinder the potential advantages of spatially colocalized auditory cues under such conditions. Rudmann and Strybel (1999) investigated whether the presentation of auditory cues that were spatially coincident, displaced by 6°, or else spatially uninformative with regard to the location of the visual target would facilitate participants' visual search performance. …

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