Max-Planck-Institut für empirische Ästhetik
Lecture by Jeremy M Wolfe: OMG, I did not see that!
The science of missing what is right in front of your eyes
We cannot simultaneously recognize every object in our field of view. As a result, we deploy attention from object to object or place to place, searching for what we need. This is true whether we are examining a Giotto fresco or cancerous nodules in a lung CT. We do not search at random. Our attention is guided by the features of the targets we seek and the structure of the scenes in which those targets are embedded. Again, this is true whether that scene is a fresco or a lung. Unfortunately, our search engine does not work perfectly and we sometimes fail to find what we seek, even when that target is, literally, right in front of our eyes. We are even more likely to miss important items are present while we are looking for something else. When those missed targets are such things as tumors or bombs, these errors are socially significant, worth understanding and, if possible, correcting. In this talk, I will illustrate some of the basic principles of human visual attention. I can promise that you will fail to see some things that you would think you should have seen. Finally, I will present data showing how those principles play out in socially important search tasks.