Prevalence-based decisions undermine visual search

Jeremy D. Schwark, Justin MacDonald, Joshua Sandry, Igor Dolgov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


In visual search, observers make decisions about the presence or absence of a target based on their perception of a target during search. The present study investigated whether decisions can be based on observers' expectation rather than perception of a target. In Experiment 1, participants were allowed to make target-present responses by clicking on the target or, if the target was not perceived, a target-present button. Participants used the target-present button option more frequently in difficult search trials and when target prevalence was high. Experiment 2 and 3 employed a difficult search task that encouraged the use of prevalence-based decisions. Target presence was reported faster when target prevalence was high, indicating that decisions were, in part, cognitive, and not strictly perceptual. A similar pattern of responses were made even when no targets appeared in the search (Experiment 3). The implication of these prevalence-based decisions for visual search models is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541-568
Number of pages28
JournalVisual Cognition
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2013


  • Decision theory
  • Low prevalence effect
  • Perception
  • Prevalence
  • Signal detection
  • Visual search


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