Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Visual Search Is Influenced by 3D Spatial Layout

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Visual Search Is Influenced by 3D Spatial Layout

Article excerpt

Published online: 14 May 2015

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract Many activities necessitate the deployment of attention to specific distances and directions in our threedimensional (3D) environment. However, most research on how attention is deployed is conducted with two dimensional (2D) computer displays, leaving a large gap in our understanding about the deployment of attention in 3D space. We report how each of four parameters of 3D visual space influence visual search: 3D display volume, distance in depth, number of depth planes, and relative target position in depth. Using a search task, we find that visual search performance depends on 3D volume, relative target position in depth, and number of depth planes. Our results demonstrate an asymmetrical preference for targets in the front of a display unique to 3D search and show that arranging items into more depth planes reduces search efficiency. Consistent with research using 2D displays, we found slower response times to find targets in displayswith larger 3D volumes compared with smaller 3D volumes. Finally, in contrast to the importance of target depth relative to other distractors, target depth relative to the fixation point did not affect response times or search efficiency.

Keywords Visual search . 3D attention . Depth . Spatial attention . Feature-based attention . Search efficiency

The deployment of visual attention concentrates an observer's limited visual processing resources on potentially relevant information, while attenuating the influence of other nonrelevant information in the scene. An activity, such as searching for an empty chair in a seminar room, requires the deployment of attention to possible targets, such as chairs in a particular region of the room, and filtering features of that attended region for information that will help guide target selection, such as chair location and availability. Although there is a vast literature examining visual search within 2D displays, such as across a picture of a room (Carrasco, 2011; Cave & Bichot, 1999), there is considerably less research exploring how attention is deployed in 3D space.

Previous studies have reported that it is possible to deploy attention to different depths (Downing & Pinker, 1985; Marrara & Moore, 2000). Downing and Pinker (1985) were the first to demonstrate that responses were slower for targets at a different depth than fixation compared with targets at the same depth as fixation, although both targets' eccentricities were the same. These slower responses found when switching depths illustrates that target localisation does not rely only on 2D coordinates. Marrara and Moore (2000) also found effects of cueing in depth, showing that attention can be shifted in depth without the need for placeholders, objects, or surfaces and is determined based on the perceptual organization of the display. Researchers also have investigated the role of 3D structure in visual search tasks, finding that not only is search for a target uniquely located in depth efficient, but using depth information to segment a display may improve search performance (Finlayson, Retell, Remington, & Grove, 2013; Nakayama & Silverman, 1986).

Although there has been research exploring the effects of depth as a feature of search elements (Downing & Pinker, 1985; Marrara & Moore, 2000; Nakayama & Silverman, 1986; de la Rosa, Moraglia, & Schneider, 2008), we know less about the nature of a 3D search environment, and how visual search is affected by 3D space. Enns and Rensink (1990a; 1990b) demonstrated that scene-based properties improved the efficiency of visual search where those properties directly influence the saliency of the target. Specifically, Enns and Rensink (1990a) showed that adding depth information to the target improves search performance, such that a target is found faster when searching for a 3D box compared with a 2D shaded shape. …

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