The Introduction of a Guided Visual Search Concept


In one of his early works, Wolfe et al. (1989) came up with a research paradigm of a guided visual search replacing the traditional serial search approach and enhancing the feature integration model. The paper was based on several experiments, which included searching for targets with variable numbers of identifying features. They showed the serial search approach’s inability to explain the observed data since the increased number of distinguishing features did not lead to increased reaction time. That could only be explained by the concept of parallel guided search, which was additionally supported by the case of triple conjunctions, where the presence of a third stimulus enhanced the efficiency of search. The data obtained under this research raised the understanding of parallel processes and led to the introduction of a guided visual search concept.

Later, Wolfe and Horowitz (2004) reviewed the vital attributes that attract visual attention and guide further search. Based on extensive previous research, they concluded that some properties could be easily detected while others can remain hidden and even doubtful. Among the most distinctive features, they named color, size, and orientation, while such aspects as curvature and shape were found less attractive. This outcome had significant practical application as it allowed to refine the characteristics of targets for their easier identification.

Experimental Design

  • IV: the target presence along with the quantity of distracting objects around it
  • IV type: within-subject
  • DV: the time the participants needed to identify whether the target is present or not
  • Hypothesis: Participants apply parallel processes to search for distinctive features while identifying targets among their distractors instead of reviewing objects one-by-one.

Real-World Relevance of the Experiment

An essential finding of Wolfe et al. (1989), supported by the results of the experiment being reviewed, is that a person can simultaneously apply several visual cues while searching for a specific target. The issue of increasing the efficiency of visual search has significant relevance for both daily life and ensuring the security of the population. First, understanding the visual search processes can be beneficial for advertisers trying to attract attention to their specific product by using all the various attributes. It can also help in arranging store facilities and making it easier for people to find the commodities they need. Finally, the criticality of understanding visual search patterns is augmented by the increasing role of graphic data due to the expansion of internet and digital commerce.

Another field fundamentally depending on visual search is the area of national security, which can primarily benefit from the increased efficiency of face recognition and detection of prohibited articles during their transportation. An important finding is that the number of distractors has less influence on the reaction time than the distinctiveness of the target among them, which is also enhanced by using a combination of identifying attributes. This emphasizes the need for applying various criteria in finding the desired objects, instead of relying on a single one, and making such criteria as distinguishable and specific as possible. Using the features that are named as the most distinctive ones and sometimes boosting their visibility by computerized aids would also help the operators. Therefore, the correct understanding and application of visual search patterns are vital for solving many real-life issues.


Wolfe, J. M., Cave, K. R., & Franzel, S. L. (1989). Guided search: An alternative to the feature integration model for visual search. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 15(3), 419–433.

Wolfe, J. M., & Horowitz, T. S. (2004). What attributes guide the deployment of visual attention and how do they do it? Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5(6), 495–501. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. 2023. "The Introduction of a Guided Visual Search Concept." November 2, 2023.

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PsychologyWriting. "The Introduction of a Guided Visual Search Concept." November 2, 2023.