Exp Brain Res. 2015 Apr;233(4):1119-24. doi: 10.1007/s00221-014-4187-3.

The prevalence effect in lateral masking and its relevance for visual search.

Geelen BP1, Wertheim AH.
  • 1Department of Psychonomics, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.



In stimulus displays with or without a single target amid 1,644 identical distractors, target prevalence was varied between 20, 50 and 80 %. Maximum gaze deviation was measured to determine the strength of lateral masking in these arrays. The results show that lateral masking was strongest in the 20 % prevalence condition, which differed significantly from both the 50 and 80 % prevalence conditions. No difference was observed between the latter two. This pattern of results corresponds to that found in the literature on the prevalence effect in visual search (stronger lateral masking corresponding to longer search times). The data add to similar findings reported earlier (Wertheim et al. in Exp Brain Res, 170:387-402, 2006), according to which the effects of many well-known factors in visual search correspond to those on lateral masking. These were the effects of set size, disjunctions versus conjunctions, display area, distractor density, the asymmetry effect (Q vs. O’s) and viewing distance. The present data, taken together with those earlier findings, may lend credit to a causal hypothesis that lateral masking could be a more important mechanism in visual search than usually assumed.

Keywords: Lateral masking; Prevalence effect; Visual search

PMID: 25567088








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