Intrinsic position uncertainty impairs overt search performance

Yelda Semizer, Melchi M. Michel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Uncertainty regarding the position of the search target is a fundamental component of visual search. However, due to perceptual limitations of the human visual system, this uncertainty can arise from intrinsic, as well as extrinsic, sources. The current study sought to characterize the role of intrinsic position uncertainty (IPU) in overt visual search and to determine whether it significantly limits human search performance. After completing a preliminary detection experiment to characterize sensitivity as a function of visual field position, observers completed a search task that required localizing a Gabor target within a field of synthetic luminance noise. The search experiment included two clutter conditions designed to modulate the effect of IPU across search displays of varying set size. In the Cluttered condition, the display was tiled uniformly with feature clutter to maximize the effects of IPU. In the Uncluttered condition, the clutter at irrelevant locations was removed to attenuate the effects of IPU. Finally, we derived an IPU-constrained ideal searcher model, limited by the IPU measured in human observers. Ideal searchers were simulated based on the detection sensitivity and fixation sequences measured for individual human observers. The IPUconstrained ideal searcher predicted performance trends similar to those exhibited by the human observers. In the Uncluttered condition, performance decreased steeply as a function of increasing set size. However, in the Cluttered condition, the effect of IPU dominated and performance was approximately constant as a function of set size. Our findings suggest that IPU substantially limits overt search performance, especially in crowded displays.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


  • Clutter
  • Crowding
  • Ideal observer analysis
  • Intrinsic position uncertainty


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