The role of categorization in visual search for orientation

Wolfe JM; Friedman-Hill SR; Stewart MI; O'Connell KM.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 1992 Feb, 18(1):34-49.


Visual search for 1 target orientation is fast and virtually independent of set size if all of the distractors are of a single, different orientation. However, in the presence of distractors of several orientations, search can become inefficient and strongly dependent on set size (Exp. 1). Search can be inefficient even if only 2 distractor orientations are used and even if those orientations are quite remote from the target orientation (e.g. 20 degrees or even 40 degrees away, Exp. 2). Search for 1 orientation among heterogeneous distractor orientations becomes more efficient if the target orientation is the only item possessing a categorical attribute such as steep, shallow (Exp. 3), tilted left or tilted right (Exp. 4), or simply tilted (Exps. 5 and 6). Orientation categories appear to be 1 of several strategies used in visual search for orientation. These serve as a compromise between the limits on parallel visual processing and the demands of a complex visual world.