When meaning matters: The temporal dynamics of semantic influences on visual attention

De Groot, F., Huettig, F., & Olivers, C. N. L. (2016). When meaning matters: The temporal dynamics of semantic influences on visual attention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 42(2), 180-196. doi:10.1037/xhp0000102.
An important question is to what extent visual attention is driven by the semantics of individual objects, rather than by their visual appearance. This study investigates the hypothesis that timing is a crucial factor in the occurrence and strength of semantic influences on visual orienting. To assess the dynamics of such influences, the target instruction was presented either before or after visual stimulus onset, while eye movements were continuously recorded throughout the search. The results show a substantial but delayed bias in orienting towards semantically related objects compared to visually related objects when target instruction is presented before visual stimulus onset. However, this delay can be completely undone by presenting the visual information before the target instruction (Experiment 1). Moreover, the absence or presence of visual competition does not change the temporal dynamics of the semantic bias (Experiment 2). Visual orienting is thus driven by priority settings that dynamically shift between visual and semantic representations, with each of these types of bias operating largely independently. The findings bridge the divide between the visual attention and the psycholinguistic literature.
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