In defense of the salience map: Salience rather than visibility determines selection

Alisha Siebold*, Wieske van Zoest, Martijn Meeter, Mieke Donk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of the present study was to investigate whether time-dependent biases of oculomotor selection as typically observed during visual search are better accounted for by an absolute-processing-speed account (J. P. de Vries, I. T. C. Hooge, M. A. Wiering, & F. A. J. Verstraten, 2011, How longer saccade latencies lead to a competition for salience. Psychological Science, 22, 916-923) or a relative-salience account (e.g., M. Donk, &W. van Zoest, 2008, Effects of salience are short-lived. Psychological Science, 19, 733-739; M. Donk & W. van Zoest, 2011, No control in orientation search: The effects of instruction on oculomotor selection in visual search. Vision Research, 51, 2156-2166). In order to test these two models, we performed an experiment in which participants were instructed to make a speeded eye movement to any of two orientation singletons presented among a homogeneous set of vertically oriented background lines. One singleton, the fixed singleton, remained identical across conditions, whereas the other singleton, the variable singleton, varied such that its orientation contrast relative to the background lines was either smaller or larger than that of the fixed singleton. The results showed that the proportion of eye movements directed toward the fixed singleton varied substantially depending on the orientation contrast of the variable singleton. A model assuming selection behavior to be determined by relative salience provided a better fit to the individual data than the absolute processing speed model. These findings suggest that relative salience rather than the visibility of an element is crucial in determining temporal variations in oculomotor selection behavior and that an explanation of visual selection behavior is insufficient without the concept of a salience map.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1516-1524
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2013


  • Overt visual search
  • Processing-speed
  • Saccadic latency
  • Salience map
  • Salience-driven processes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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