Color and intensity coding provide perceptual cues to segregate categories of objects within a visual display, allowing operators to search more efficiently for needed information. Even within a perceptually distinct subset of display elements, however, it may often be useful to prioritize items representing urgent or task-critical information. The design of symbology to produce search asymmetries (Treisman & Souther, 1985) offers a potential technique for doing this, but it is not obvious from existing models of search that an asymmetry observed in the absence of extraneous visual stimuli will persist within a complex color- or intensity-coded display. To address this issue, in the current study we measured the strength of a visual search asymmetry within displays containing color- or intensity-coded extraneous items. The asymmetry persisted strongly in the presence of extraneous items that were drawn in a different color (Experiment 1) or a lower contrast (Experiment 2) than the search-relevant items, with the targets favored by the search asymmetry producing highly efficient search. The asymmetry was attenuated but not eliminated when extraneous items were drawn in a higher contrast than search-relevant items (Experiment 3). Results imply that the coding of symbology to exploit visual search asymmetries can facilitate visual search for high-priority items even within color- or intensity-coded displays.
- display design
- visual search