New insights into feature and conjunction search: I. Evidence from pupil size, eye movements and ageing

G Porter, A Tales, TS Troscianko, G Wilcock, J Haworth, U Leonards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Differences in the processing mechanisms underlying visual feature and conjunction search are still under debate, one problem being a common emphasis on performance measures (speed and accuracy) which do not necessarily provide insights to the underlying processing principles. Here, eye movements and pupil dilation were used to investigate sampling strategy and processing load during performance of a conjunction and two feature-search tasks, with younger (18–27 years) and healthy older (61–83 years) age groups compared for evidence of differential age-related changes. The tasks involved equivalent processing time per item, were controlled in terms of target–distractor similarity, and did not allow perceptual grouping. Close matching of the key tasks was confirmed by patterns of fixation duration and an equal number of saccades required to find a target. Moreover, moment-to-moment pupillary dilation was indistinguishable across the tasks for both age groups, suggesting that all required the same total amount of effort or resources.

Despite matching, subtle differences in eye movement patterns occurred between tasks: the conjunction task required more saccades to reach a target-absent decision and involved shorter saccade amplitudes than the feature tasks. General age-related changes were manifested in an increased number of saccades and longer fixation durations in older than younger participants. In addition, older people showed disproportionately longer and more variable fixation durations for the conjunction task specifically. These results suggest a fundamental difference between conjunction and feature search: accurate target identification in the conjunction context requires more conservative eye movement patterns, with these further adjusted in healthy ageing. The data also highlight the independence of eye movement and pupillometry measures and stress the importance of saccades and strategy for understanding the processing mechanisms driving different types of visual search.
Translated title of the contributionNew insights into feature and conjunction search: I. Evidence from pupil size, eye movements and ageing
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621 - 636
Number of pages16
JournalCortex
Volume46
Issue number5
Early online date12 Jun 2009
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2010

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