Statistical templates for visual search

John F. Ackermann, Michael S. Landy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How do we find a target embedded in a scene?Within the framework of signal detection theory, this task is carried out by comparing each region of the scene with a "template,"i.e., an internal representation of the search target. Here we ask what form this representation takes when the search target is a complex image with uncertain orientation. We examine three possible representations. The first is the matched filter. Such a representation cannot account for the ease with which humans can find a complex search target that is rotated relative to the template. A second representation attempts to deal with this by estimating the relative orientation of target and match and rotating the intensity-based template. No intensity-based template, however, can account for the ability to easily locate targets that are defined categorically and not in terms of a specific arrangement of pixels. Thus, we define a third template that represents the target in terms of image statistics rather than pixel intensities. Subjects performed a two-alternative, forcedchoice search task in which they had to localize an image that matched a previously viewed target. Target images were texture patches. In one condition, match images were the same image as the target and distractors were a different image of the same textured material. In the second condition, the match image was of the same texture as the target (but different pixels) and the distractor was an image of a different texture. Match and distractor stimuli were randomly rotated relative to the target. We compared human performance to pixel-based, pixel-based with rotation, and statistic-based search models. The statistic-based search model was most successful at matching human performance. We conclude that humans use summary statistics to search for complex visual targets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014


  • Image statistics
  • Texture
  • Visual search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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