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Target-distractor similarity has a larger impact on visual search in school-age children than spacing

Publication by: Huurneman B, Boonstra FN.


In typically developing children, crowding decreases with increasing age. The influence of target-distractor similarity with respect to orientation and element spacing on visual search performance was investigated in 29 school-age children with normal vision (4- to 6-year-olds [N = 16], 7- to 8-year-olds [N = 13]). Children were instructed to search for a target E among distractor Es (feature search: all flanking Es pointing right; conjunction search: flankers in three orientations). Orientation of the target was manipulated in four directions: right (target absent), left (inversed), up, and down (vertical). Spacing was varied in four steps: 0.04°, 0.5°, 1°, and 2°. During feature search, high target-distractor similarity had a stronger impact on performance than spacing: Orientation affected accuracy until spacing was 1°, and spacing only influenced accuracy for identifying inversed targets. Spatial analyses showed that orientation affected oculomotor strategy: Children made more fixations in the "inversed" target area (4.6) than the vertical target areas (1.8 and 1.9). Furthermore, age groups differed in fixation duration: 4- to 6-year-old children showed longer fixation durations than 7- to 8-year-olds at the two largest element spacings (p = 0.039 and p = 0.027). Conjunction search performance was unaffected by spacing. Four conclusions can be drawn from this study: (a) Target-distractor similarity governs visual search performance in school-age children, (b) children make more fixations in target areas when target-distractor similarity is high, (c) 4- to 6-year-olds show longer fixation durations than 7- to 8-year-olds at 1° and 2° element spacing, and (d) spacing affects feature but not conjunction search-a finding that might indicate top-down control ameliorates crowding in children. 

In: J Vis. 2015 Jan 22;15(1):15.1.23.