Stable statistical representations facilitate visual search

Jennifer E. Corbett, David Melcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Observers represent the average properties of object ensembles even when they cannot identify individual elements. To investigate the functional role of ensemble statistics, we examined how modulating statistical stability affects visual search. We varied the mean and/or individual sizes of an array of Gabor patches while observers searched for a tilted target. In "stable" blocks, the mean and/or local sizes of the Gabors were constant over successive displays, whereas in "unstable" baseline blocks they changed from trial to trial. Although there was no relationship between the context and the spatial location of the target, observers found targets faster (as indexed by faster correct responses and fewer saccades) as the global mean size became stable over several displays. Building statistical stability also facilitated scanning the scene, as measured by larger saccadic amplitudes, faster saccadic reaction times, and shorter fixation durations. These findings suggest a central role for peripheral visual information, creating context to free resources for detailed processing of salient targets and maintaining the illusion of visual stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1915-1925
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2014


  • Contextual cueing
  • Ensemble encoding
  • Mean size
  • Perceptual averaging
  • Visual search
  • Visual stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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