Repetition streaks increase perceptual sensitivity in visual search of brief displays

Heida Maria Sigurdardottir, Árni Kristjánsson*, Jon Driver

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


Studies examining possible priming effects on visual search have generally shown that repeating the same type of search facilitates or speeds performance. But such studies typically assess any priming via measuring response latency, in tasks where accuracy is at or near ceiling. This leaves open the possibility that criterion shifts alone might produce the apparent improvements, and such shifts could plausibly arise when, say, a particular type of repeated search display becomes predictable. Here we assessed criterion-free perceptual sensitivity (d') for visual search, in two experiments that used brief masked displays to bring performance off ceiling. In Experiment 1, sensitivity for a relatively difficult search task improved with successive repetitions of the same type of search, with sensitivity enhanced for both target-present and target-absent trials. In Experiment 2, sensitivity for a search task requiring discrimination on a colour-singleton target likewise showed enhancement with repetition. Experiment 2 also showed that the priming effects seem to influence the speed of attention shifts towards the target rather than influencing visual acuity directly. We conclude that priming in visual search, arising due to repetition streaks, is characterized by genuine improvements in perceptual sensitivity, not just criterion shifts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-658
Number of pages16
JournalVisual Cognition
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Please address all correspondence to Árni Kristjánsson, University of Iceland, Department of Psychology, Oddi v. Sturlugötu, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland. E-mail: HMS was supported by The Icelandic Student Innovation Fund, AK was supported by research grants from the Human Frontiers Science Program and the University of Iceland, and JD was supported by the BBSRC (UK) and the Wellcome Trust.


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