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A visual search asymmetry for novelty in the visual field based on sensory adaptation

Morgan, M. J. ORCID: 0000-0002-9495-1274 & Solomon, J. A. ORCID: 0000-0001-9976-4788 (2020). A visual search asymmetry for novelty in the visual field based on sensory adaptation. Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, 82, pp. 938-943. doi: 10.3758/s13414-019-01943-w


The ability to detect sudden changes in the environment is important for survival. However, studies of “change blindness” have shown that image differences are hard to detect when a time delay or a mask is imposed between the different images. However, when sensory adaptation is permitted by accuratefixation, we find that change detection is not only possible but asymmetrical: a single changed target amongst 15 unchanging distractors is much easier to detect than a target defined by its lack of change. Although adaptation may selectively reduce the apparent contrast of unchanged objects, the asymmetry in “change salience” cannot be attributed to any such reduction because genuine reductions in target contrast increase, rather than decrease, target detectability. Analogous results preclude attribution to apparent differences between a) target onset and distractor onset and b) their temporal frequencies (both flickered at 7.5 Hz, minimizing afterimages). Our results demonstrate a hitherto underappreciated (or unappreciated) advantage conferred by low-level sensory adaptation: it automatically elevates the salience of previously absent objects.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Copyright The Author(s) 2020. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, pro- vide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Publisher Keywords: Aftereffect . Popout . Change blindness
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Optometry & Visual Sciences
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

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