Person, place, and past influence eye movements during visual search


What is the role of an individual’s past experience in guiding gaze in familiar environments? Contemporary models of search guidance suggest high level scene context is a strong predictor of where observers search in realistic scenes. Specific associations also develop between particular places and object locations. Together, scene context and place-specific associations bias attention to informative spatial locations. At the level of eye fixations, it is not known whether a person’s specific search experience influences attentional selection. Eye movements are notoriously variable: people often foveate different places when searching for the same target in the same scene. Do individual differences in fixation locations influence how a scene is subsequently examined? We introduce a method, comparative map analysis, for analyzing spatial patterns in eye movement data. Using this method, we quantified the consistency of fixated locations within the same observer and between observers during search of real world scenes. Results indicated a remarkable consistency in the locations fixated by the same observer across multiple searches of a given scene. This observer-specific guidance was shown to be distinct from general scene context information or familiarity with the scene. Accordingly, this is considered evidence for a uniquely informative role of an individual’s search experience on attentional guidance in a familiar scene.

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