Discovery and representation of human strategies for visual search
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Visual search can simply be defined as the task of looking for an object of interest in a visual environment. Due to its foveated nature, the human visual system succeeds at such task by making many discrete fixations linked by rapid eye movements called saccades. However, very little is known about how saccadic targets (fixation loci) are selected by the brain in such naturalistic tasks. Discoveries to be made are not only invaluable to the field of vision science but are very important in designing automated vision systems, which to this day lag in performance vis-à-vis human observers. What I have sought to accomplish in this dissertation has been to reveal previously unknown saccadic targeting and target selection strategies used by human observers in naturalistic visual search tasks. My driving goal has been to understand how the brain selects fixation loci and target candidates upon fixation, with the objective of using these findings for automated fixation selection algorithms employed for visual search. I have proposed a novel and efficient technique akin to psychophysical reverse correlation to study human observer strategies in locating low-contrast targets under a variety of experimental conditions. My technique has successfully been used to study saccadic programming and target selection in various experimental conditions, including visual searches for targets with known characteristics, targets whose orientation attributes are not known a priori, and targets containing multiple orientations. I have found visual guidance in saccadic targeting and target selection under all experimental conditions, revealed by observers' selectivity for spatial frequencies and/or orientations of stimuli close to that of the target. I have shown that under uncertainty, observers rely on known target characteristics to direct their saccades and to select target candidates upon foveal scrutiny. Moreover, I have demonstrated that multiple orientation characteristics of targets are represented in observer search strategies, modulated by their sensitivity / selectivity for each orientation. Some of my findings have been applied towards applications for automated visual search algorithms.