Implicit object naming in visual search: Evidence from phonological competition

Stephen C. Walenchok, Michael C. Hout, Stephen Goldinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


During visual search, people are distracted by objects that visually resemble search targets; search is impaired when targets and distractors share overlapping features. In this study, we examined whether a nonvisual form of similarity, overlapping object names, can also affect search performance. In three experiments, people searched for images of real-world objects (e.g., a beetle) among items whose names either all shared the same phonological onset (/bi/), or were phonologically varied. Participants either searched for 1 or 3 potential targets per trial, with search targets designated either visually or verbally. We examined standard visual search (Experiments 1 and 3) and a self-paced serial search task wherein participants manually rejected each distractor (Experiment 2). We hypothesized that people would maintain visual templates when searching for single targets, but would rely more on object names when searching for multiple items and when targets were verbally cued. This reliance on target names would make performance susceptible to interference from similar-sounding distractors. Experiments 1 and 2 showed the predicted interference effect in conditions with high memory load and verbal cues. In Experiment 3, eye-movement results showed that phonological interference resulted from small increases in dwell time to all distractors. The results suggest that distractor names are implicitly activated during search, slowing attention disengagement when targets and distractors share similar names.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2633-2654
Number of pages22
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • Eye movements
  • Multiple-target search
  • Phonological competitors
  • Visual search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language


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