Past and Current Projects

Control of Visual Attention

People have little trouble following instructions. For example, if you are asked to "search the room for a set of keys", you can readily perform the task. How is it that we can configure and reconfigure our visual and attentional systems to perform a wide variety of arbitrary tasks? And how do we become more efficient with experience performing a task? To answer these questions, we require an understanding of the mechanisms underlying the control of visual attention.

One project involves designing and evaluating a model of human visual search called Experience Guided Search (EGS) that predicts the relative difficulty of searching for a target among distractors. We are currently conducting additional experiments to test predictions of the model concerning how the statistics of the environment on one experimental trial influence future performance.

Another project involves an experiment by Leanne Chukoskie in which she asks participants to search for an invisible target, and provides a reward signal when the participant moves their eyes to the predetermined 'target' location. When the target locations are drawn from a particular distribution (e.g., a Gaussian), she finds that participants rapidly learn the shape of this distribution. We've fit individual participant data with a reinforcement learning model, and find that the model predicts very detailed patterns of human performance.

In another experiment, we are using a similar 'invisible target' search task to see if we can train individuals more efficiently to look in the appropriate position. Training individuals is time consuming for many complex visual domains (e.g., fingerprint matching, flying a plane, controlling air traffic, screening baggage) where an individual needs to know where to look in an image given contextual information.


David Baldwin
Jason Jones (Psychology, UCSD)
Rob Lindsey (Computer Science, Colorado)
Karthik Venkatesh (Electrical Engineering, Colorado)


Leanne Chukoskie (Salk Institute)
Gary Cottrell (Computer Science, UCSD)
Javier Movellan (Computer Science, UCSD)
Tom Palmieri (Psychology, Vanderbilt)
Hal Pashler (Psychology, UCSD)
Terry Sejnowski (Salk Institute)
Joe Snyder (Salk Institute)
Sean Vecera (Psychology, University of Iowa)
Charles Wright (Psychology, UC Irvine)