The depth of distractor processing in search with clutter

Mary J. Bravo, Hany Farid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Some search tasks involve looking for a category target in clutter. This is the task faced, for example, by a baggage screener looking for weapons in a suitcase. Such tasks presumably involve the segmentation and recognition of the target object, but it is unknown whether they also involve the segmentation and recognition of the distractor objects. To examine the depth of distractor processing in this task, we had observers search through cluttered displays composed of normal and chimerical distractors. The normal distractors were photographs of recognizable objects, while the chimerical distractors were created by interchanging parts between the normal objects. The obsever's task was to identify the display quadrant that contained an animal or a vehicle target. We varied the difficulty of the search task by varying target and distractor discriminability, target uncertainty, and target occlusion. Only when the target was partially occluded did we find an effect of distractor type. In this case, observers may have found the target through a process of mentally eliminating whole distractor objects. When the target was unoccluded, we found no evidence that observers selected and rejected whole distractors during search. This second result supports our previous claim that often the items for search in clutter are not whole objects.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)821-829
Number of pages9
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Artificial Intelligence


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