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Visual Search

software (purpose, software)
selected publications


The process of visual search, searching for a known item in an image, can be very easy or it can often be difficult and take considerable time. The two displays below illustrate both situations. In both cases, you are searching for a red T.

You may have noticed that the left display was trivial, while the right display took a little more looking. The second display contained both blue T's and red L's, which mean that in order for you to find the target you have to look for a conjunction of features. This a time-consuming process that may mean directing your attention to each letter or small groups of letters. This is one of many factors that can influence the speed of visual search.

Visual search occurs any time you search through a complex display looking for a particular kind of information. It is a fundamentally important task that involves many life-and-death situations. For example, radiologists scan mammograms for signs of tumors. Intelligence officers scan spy satellite photographs looking for important targets. Air traffic controllers scan radar display looking for possible collisions. All of these tasks require visual search.

Purpose of Our Software

The purpose of our software is to help you study some of the processes that allow us to scan through a visual display to identify a target item. It allows you to make displays similar to the ones above and record response times during the experiment.


Run Applet
Download Software, and Images that are necessary to run the program (save the Targets folder and the VisualSearch.jar file on the desktop and double-click on VisualSearch.jar to run the program. See the movie below for help uncompressing the target.zip compressed folder in Windows. If you have problems, try using the Firefox browser.)

Windows users: Use this installer: VisualSearch.exe (virus checked, safe to download)

View this movie to get help installing the software.

Use this tutorial to learn about visual search while interacting with the software.

Selected Publications on Visual Search

  1. Models of Visual Search: Find a Face in the Crowd. Barbara Anne Dosher. Chapter 10 in An Invitation to Cognitive Science (2nd ed), Vol 4, Methods, Models, and Conceptual Issues.
  2. Visual Search. J.M. Wolfe. in H. Pashler, editor, Attention. University College London Press, London, 1996.