Perceptual selectivity is task dependent: The pop-out effect poops out

Carl M. Francolini, Howard E. Egeth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An attempt was made to determine why evidence for perceptual selectivity based on conceptual category (e.g., digits vs. letters) has been found in some experiments but not in others. Experiments using the partial-report paradigm find no partial-report superiority when the report is cued by category, whereas, in recent visual search studies, evidence for perceptual selectivity has been obtained for arrays containing a single item that was categorically different from the other items (e.g., a digit among letters). Using a search task, Experiment 1 investigated the possibility that the number of categorically different items in the arrays could be a determinant of selectivity. One, two, or three digits and a variable number of letters were presented on each trial, and subjects determined if a particular digit was present. No evidence of selectivity was obtained, even for the one-digit condition. Experiment 2 verified this result, and Experiment 3 extended the failure of selectivity to a search task in which the possible targets differed in color from the distractor items. In Experiment 4, subjects counted the number of digits or red letters in arrays in which black letters were the distractor items. The counting task was used to eliminate the requirement in our previous tasks that the subjects search for specific items. Evidence was obtained in the counting task for selectivity based on the color difference but not on the categorical difference. The color stimuli used in the counting task were essentially the same as those that did not yield any evidence of selectivity in the search task. The results suggest that task demands are an important determinant of whether or not perceptual selectivity will occur.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-110
Number of pages12
JournalPerception & Psychophysics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 1979

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Psychology(all)

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