Yates D, Stafford T, 2011, "Instruction to relax enhances visual search performance by altering eye movements" Perception 40 ECVP Abstract Supplement, page 57
Instruction to relax enhances visual search performance by altering eye movements
D Yates, T Stafford
Anecdotal evidence suggests that we are better at lab-based visual search tasks when we are relaxed, or adopt a more passive strategy. In 2006, Smilek and colleagues sought to demonstrate this effect by giving subjects either passive or active instructions prior to a visual search task (Smilek et al, 2006 Visual Cognition 14 543–564). They found that subjects given passive instructions (ie letting the unique item "pop" into mind) performed significantly better compared to subjects instructed to search actively. Smilek concluded that the active instructions slowed performance by interfering with the rapid and automatic mechanisms involved in passive search. However, the results do not allow us to conclude whether passive instructions made the subjects better, active instructions made them worse, or both. In the current study we establish a baseline result by adding a third group of subjects who were given neutral instructions. The results show that subjects adopt an active strategy by default and can be made to improve by simply being instructed to search more passively. Furthermore, eye tracking reveals that the passive instructions lead to systematic differences in the way the subjects search the display. The potential implications for visual search in the real world are discussed.
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