Target templates: the precision of mental representations affects attentional guidance and decision-making in visual search

Michael C. Hout, Stephen Goldinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

61 Scopus citations


When people look for things in the environment, they use target templates—mental representations of the objects they are attempting to locate—to guide attention and to assess incoming visual input as potential targets. However, unlike laboratory participants, searchers in the real world rarely have perfect knowledge regarding the potential appearance of targets. In seven experiments, we examined how the precision of target templates affects the ability to conduct visual search. Specifically, we degraded template precision in two ways: 1) by contaminating searchers’ templates with inaccurate features, and 2) by introducing extraneous features to the template that were unhelpful. We recorded eye movements to allow inferences regarding the relative extents to which attentional guidance and decision-making are hindered by template imprecision. Our findings support a dual-function theory of the target template and highlight the importance of examining template precision in visual search.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)128-149
Number of pages22
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014



  • Attentional guidance
  • Decision making
  • Eye movements
  • Target templates
  • Visual search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

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