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Feature-Integration 1

Running Head: FEATURE-INTEGRATION AND VISUAL SEARCHES


How Visual Search Experiments Help Us Perceive and Recognize Objects
Elizabeth McKinney
Ohio Northern University

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How Visual Search Experiments Help Us Perceive and Recognize Objects
The feature-integration theory of visual pattern perception was originally proposed by
Anne Treisman in 1980. The theory emphasizes the role that attention plays in visual perception.
Treisman proposed two stages of processing: pre-attentive and focused attention. Pre-attentive
processing takes the elemental features of the object, such as color and orientation, and separates
them into feature maps. Focused attention processing combines the different features of the
object so that we perceive the whole object. Both of these stages must occur before we can
perceive an object.
Visual search experiments, such as the experiments in the PsyCog software, reveal that
participants need less time to find a target if it differs from the other nearby elements, as long as
these extra elements are irrelevant to the target, which provides empirical evidence in favor of
the theory. A shorter search time means that pre-attentive processing is used more than focused
attention processing.

Method
Robert Wyttenbachs software PsyCog: Explorations in Perception and Cognition
offers two different experiments to test the feature-integration theory and attention processing.
Disjunct Search
The disjunct search experiment required the participant to locate an S or any blue letter
on the test screen. In each trial, any combination of the letters S, X, and T were presented
in black, brown, green, and blue. The participant had to select = if either target stimuli were
present and if the target stimuli were not present. The test screens showed anywhere between
1 and 30 letters for each trial. The experiment included 16 practice trials followed by 64 test
trials.

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Conjunct Search
The conjunct search experiment required the participant to locate a green T on the test
screen. The stimuli on the screen included green and brown T and X letters. In each trial,
anywhere between 1 and 30 letters were shown on the test screen. The participant had to select
= if the target stimulus was present and if the target stimulus was not present. The
experiment included 16 practice trials and 64 test trials.

Results
Disjunct Search Experiment

In this experiment, my reaction times increased as the set size increased for the trials with
a present target stimulus. My reaction times for the trials without the target stimulus remained
the same throughout the experiment, regardless of the set size.

Conjunct Search Experiment

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In the conjunct search experiment, my response times for both types of trials increased;
however, my reaction time for trials without the target stimulus increased more than my reaction
time for trials with the target stimulus.

Discussion
My results support the feature-integration approach, specifically pre-attentive processing.
My response times were slower when the target stimulus was not present, indicating that I
needed to look at each stimulus on the test screen to ensure I hadnt missed the target. When the
target was present, I only needed to find that one specific stimulus, so I was able to answer as
soon as I found the target stimulus.
This supports the feature-integration theory because it reveals that when the trials had
separate elemental features (color and type of letter), I had similar reaction times, but when the
trials used stimuli that were combined (the target and the irrelevant stimuli were presented in the
same colors), I had drastically different reaction times. In the disjunct search experiment, I used

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pre-attentive processing, which allows for faster object perception. The conjunct search
experiment required focused attention processing, which takes longer than pre-attentive
processing.
All of my results and findings are consistent with the findings of Treisman, which are
noted in two of her articles. The first was written by both Treisman and Garry Gelade: A
Feature-Integration Theory of Attention. This article presents the feature-integration theory of
attention for the first time. It introduces the concepts of pre-attentive and focused attention
processing that occurs in the brain during object perception. Another article that Treisman coauthored with Hilary Schmidt, titled Illusory Conjunctions in the Perception of Objects, delves
deeper into the theory by focusing on different levels of attention in relation to different features
of the stimuli.
A study done by Bernhard Hommel and Lorenza Colzato used an experiment to test two
kinds of integration mechanisms: feature conjunctions or neural binding of feature codes. Their
article, When an object is more than a binding of its features: Evidence for two mechanisms of
visual feature integration, explains their findings. In the experiments, participants had to
respond to a trial with a stimulus present or stimulus not present answer. The stimuli
provided were either real objects (a banana and strawberry) or two shapes (a triangle and
circle). The results of the experiment revealed that both processing mechanisms are used in both
situations, so the authors suggested a dual-process feature-integration model to better explain
what Treisman stated in her original article, A Feature-Integration Theory of Attention. This
dual-process still supports Treismans theory, but it also takes into account multiple combinations
of the objects features.
Another way the feature-integration theory could be tested is by using a scene that could

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be readily identifiable by a large population. A park, for example, with trees, benches, a swingset,
people, and dogs would compose the most complicated test screen. A more basic test screen of
this scene would have still have the swingset, but would have fewer trees and benches. The test
screens need to vary complexity in a random order in order to test reaction times while adjusting
for errors of habituation and anticipation. The target stimulus would be an animal such as a bird
or squirrel. This would prove to be an adequate study because it uses real objects, as in the
Hommel and Colzato study, to test our perception. The different objects on the test screen will
test the participants attention and focus.
The advantages of the feature-integration theory include its rapidity and accuracy. The
experiments dont take a long time; the experiments on the PsyCog software lasted less than ten
minutes each, and since the results depended on correct answers, participants felt pressured to
sacrifice speed for accuracy, thus leading to more accurate results. This can be applied to real-life
use of the feature-integration theory: it explains why people are able to quickly and accurately
identify objects in their visual field with minimal errors in everyday life.
A disadvantage of the feature-integration theory is something that is known as the
binding problem. This issue is revealed through illusory conjunctions that occur often under
controlled conditions, such as when we see multiple shapes of different colors and combine two
shapes and colors after the stimuli are taken away.

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References
Treisman, A. & Gelade, G. (1980). A Feature-Integration Theory of Attention. Cognitive
Psychology, 12, 97-136.
http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/class/psy355/gilden/treisman.pdf
Treisman, A., & Schmidt, H. (1982). Illusory Conjunctions in the Perception of Objects.
Cognitive Psychology, 14(1), 107-141. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0010-0285(82)90006-8
Hommel, B., & Colzato, L. S. (2009). When an object is more than a binding of its features:
Evidences for two mechanisms of visual feature integration. Visual Cognition, 17 (1/2),
120-140. Doi:10.1080/13506280802349787