Widely held idea of visual attention refuted
Conventionally, we think that our attention is drawn to objects that stand out from their background. However, new research suggests that our attention is drawn to things that are meaningful rather than those that stick out or are salient.
Researchers at the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, brain mapped hundreds of images by eye tracking, and statistical analysis showed that our attention is only drawn to meaning and not salience. Professor John Henderson, who was the lead investigator of the study, stated, "A lot of people will have to rethink things.” According to him, our eyes perceive a wide field but our attention can be focused only on a small part of this field. Typically, there is a latent process where the attention is focused automatically without thinking. The dominant theory places importance on saliency which is easy to measure. However, Henderson points out that if only relative contrast and brightness were to attract our attention, we’d spend our lives distracted all the time. Calling it the ‘magpie theory’ he further adds that, "It becomes obvious, though, that it can't be right."
To establish the meaning theory, Henderson constructed meaning maps of test scenes in which different parts of the scene had different levels of meaning to an observer. Eye movements of volunteers were tracked as they looked at the scene. Eyetracks helped create a map of parts of the image that attracted the most attention. The attention map was closer to the meaning map than the salience map. Although the research is aimed at understanding how visual attention works, the immediate applications will be developing automated visual systems to scan security.
John M. Henderson & Taylor R. Hayes
Meaning-based guidance of attention in scenes as revealed by meaning maps
Nature Human Behaviour (2017) doi:10.1038/s41562-017-0208-0
Image courtesy: Pexels
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