Modelling Visual Search with the Selective Attention for Identification Model (VS-SAIM): A Novel Explanation for Visual Search Asymmetries

Dietmar Heinke, A Backhaus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

25 Citations (Scopus)
295 Downloads (Pure)


In earlier work, we developed the Selective Attention for Identification Model (SAIM [16]). SAIM models the human ability to perform translation-invariant object identification in multiple object scenes. SAIM suggests that central for this ability is an interaction between parallel competitive processes in a selection stage and a object identification stage. In this paper, we applied the model to visual search experiments involving simple lines and letters. We presented successful simulation results for asymmetric and symmetric searches and for the influence of background line orientations. Search asymmetry refers to changes in search performance when the roles of target item and non-target item (distractor) are swapped. In line with other models of visual search, the results suggest that a large part of the empirical evidence can be explained by competitive processes in the brain, which are modulated by the similarity between target and distractor. The simulations also suggest that another important factor is the feature properties of distractors. Finally, the simulations indicate that search asymmetries can be the outcome of interactions between top-down (knowledge about search items) and bottom-up (feature of search items) processing. This interaction in VS-SAIM is dominated by a novel mechanism, the knowledge-based on-centre-off-surround receptive field. This receptive field is reminiscent of the classical receptive fields but the exact shape is modulated by both, top-down and bottom-up processes. The paper discusses supporting evidence for the existence of this novel concept.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-205
Number of pages21
JournalCognitive Computation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2011


  • Visual attention
  • Search asymmetry
  • Visual search
  • Computational modelling


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