Knowing where to look: Conceptual knowledge guides fixation in an object categorization task


Increasing evidence suggests that humans are not passive perceivers of the world but actively seek out perceptual information. A pressing question for cognitive science concerns how conceptual representations influence this active perception. To address this question, we investigated fixation patterns during visual object classification while manipulating the level of specificity at which a given item was categorized. Twenty-nine undergraduates verified whether a picture matched a preceding verbal label while their eye-movements were monitored. When pictures (e.g., beaver) were classified at a specific level (BEAVER), participants showed significantly increased dwell time to distinctive features (tail) but decreased dwell time to common features (e.g., face) compared to classification of the same picture at a general level (e.g. ANIMAL) although participants attended to both distinctive and common features in both conditions. The results suggest that conceptual knowledge can substantially influence how viewers direct their gazes and consequently focus on the relevant perceptual information.

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