'Where' and 'what' in visual search.
Atkinson J., Braddick OJ.
A line segment target can be detected among distractors of a different orientation by a fast 'preattentive' process. One view is that this depends on detection of a 'feature gradient', which enables subjects to locate where the target is without necessarily identifying what it is. An alternative view is that a target can be identified as distinctive in a particular 'feature map' without subjects knowing where it is in that map. Experiments are reported in which briefly exposed arrays of line segments were followed by a pattern mask, and the threshold stimulus-mask interval determined for three tasks: 'what'--subjects reported whether the target was vertical or horizontal among oblique distractors; 'coarse where'--subjects reported whether the target was in the upper or lower half of the array; 'fine where'--subjects reported whether or not the target was in a set of four particular array positions. The threshold interval was significantly lower for the 'coarse where' than for the 'what' task, indicating that, even though localization in this task depends on the target's orientation difference, this localization is possible without absolute identification of target orientation. However, for the 'fine where' task, intervals as long as or longer than those for the 'what' task were required. It appears either that different localization processes work at different levels of resolution, or that a single localization process, independent of identification, can increase its resolution at the expense of processing speed. These possibilities are discussed in terms of distinct neural representations of the visual field and fixed or variable localization processes acting upon them.