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Target templates in low target-distractor discriminability visual search have higher resolution, but the advantage they provide is short-lived.


When you search repeatedly for a set of items among very similar distractors, does that make you more efficient in locating the targets? To address this, we had observers search for two categories of targets among the same set of distractors across trials. Visual and conceptual similarity of the stimuli were validated with a multidimensional scaling analysis, and separately using a deep neural network model. After a few blocks of visual search trials, the distractor set was replaced. In three experiments, we manipulated the level of discriminability between the targets and distractors before and after the distractors were replaced. Our results suggest that in the presence of repeated distractors, observers generally become more efficient. However, the difficulty of the search task does impact how efficient people are when the distractor set is replaced. Specifically, when the training is easy, people are more impaired in a difficult transfer test. We attribute this effect to the precision of the target template generated during training. In particular, a coarse target template is created when the target and distractors are easy to discriminate. These coarse target templates do not transfer well in a context with new distractors. This suggests that learning with more distinct targets and distractors can result in lower performance when context changes, but observers recover from this effect quickly (within a block of search trials).

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