Looking away to see: The acquisition of a search habit away from the saccade direction

Chen Chen, Vanessa G. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Growing evidence has shown that attention can be habit-like, unconsciously and persistently directed toward locations that have frequently contained search targets in the past. The attentional preference typically arises when the eye gaze aligns with the attended location. Here we tested whether this spatial alignment is necessary for the acquisition of a search habit. To divert eye movements away from an attended location, we used gaze-contingent eye tracking, restricting the visible portion of the screen to an area opposite to the current gaze. Participants searched for a T target amidst a circular array of L distractors. Unbeknownst to them, the target appeared more frequently in one screen quadrant. Despite fixating on a location diametrically opposite to the visible, attended region, participants acquired probability cuing, producing quicker responses when the target appeared in the high-probability quadrant. They also showed a speed advantage in the diagonal quadrant. The attentional preference for the high-probability quadrant persisted during a testing phase in which the target's location was unbiased, but only when participants continued to search with the restricted view. These results indicate that a search habit can be acquired even when participants are required to look away from the high-probability locations. The finding suggests that the learned search habit is not solely a result of oculomotor learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108276
JournalVision Research
StatePublished - Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd


  • Eye movements
  • Location probability learning
  • Selection history effects
  • Spatial attention
  • Visual search

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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