Cognitive Residues of Similarity: After-Effects of Similarity Computations in Visual Search


What are the “cognitive after-effects” of making a similarity judgement? What, cognitively, is left behind and what effect might these residues have on subsequent processing? In this paper, we probe for such after-effects using a visual search task, performed after a task in which pictures of real-world objects were compared. So, target objects were first presented in a comparison task (e.g., rate the similarity of this object to another) thus, presumably, modifying some of their features before asking people to visually search for the same object in complex scenes (with distractors and camouflaged backgrounds). As visual search is known to be influenced by the features of target objects, then any after-effects of the comparison task should be revealed in subsequent visual searches. Results showed that when people previously rated an object as being high on a scale (e.g., colour similarity or general similarity) then visual search is inhibited (slower RTs and more saccades in eye-tracking) relative to an object being rated as low in the same scale. There was also some evidence that different comparison tasks (e.g., compare on colour or compare on general similarity) have differential effects on visual search.

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