Rapid resumption of interrupted visual search: New insights on the interaction between memory and vision

Psychological Science 16 (9):684-688 (2005)
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A modified visual search task demonstrates that humans are very good at resuming a search after it has been momentarily interrupted. This is shown by exceptionally rapid response time to a display that reappears after a brief interruption, even when an entirely different visual display is seen during the interruption and two different visual searches are performed simultaneously. This rapid resumption depends on the stability of the visual scene and is not due to display or response anticipations. These results are consistent with the existence of an iterative hypothesis-testing mechanism that compares information stored in short-term memory (the perceptual hypothesis) with information about the display (the sensory pattern). In this view, rapid resumption occurs because a hypothesis based on a previous glance of the scene can be tested very rapidly in a subsequent glance, given that the initial hypothesis-generation step has already been performed.

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Ronald A. Rensink
University of British Columbia


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