Attentional Capture by Looming

Attention capture by looming demo to accompany Lin et al (2008)

  • Lin, J.Y., Franconeri, S.L ,& Enns, J.T. (2008). Objects on a collision path with the observer demand attention. Psychological Science, 19(7), 686-692. [pdf]

We devote our limited processing resources to regions of a scene based on a dynamic balance between our current goals and reflexive tendencies. Past research showed that these reflexive tendencies include having our attention captured by objects that expand as if they were looming towards us, presumably because this signal indicates an impending collision. Here we report that during visual search, items that loom abruptly capture attention more strongly when they approach from the periphery than near the center of gaze (Experiment 1) and when they are on a collision path with the observer rather than a near-miss path (Experiment 2). Performing the same search in a large projection dome exaggerates both effects (Experiment 3). These findings suggest that our visual system prioritizes events that are likely to require a behaviorally urgent response.

Participants’ task in these experiments
Indicate the orientation of the one egg-shaped item (horizontal, vertical) in each display of spheres.

Each search display began with a four-frame sequence of motion (54 ms per frame). One sphere expanded rapidly in size (looming item), moving either directly toward the participant (collision) or on a path that would not collide (near miss). In the last frame of the sequence, one sphere became slightly egg-shaped (the target). Spheres and looming items appeared at one of two distances from the center (near, far) so that the influence of looming could be compared for these locations.

The demo illustrates four conditions in the experiments
1. Looming distractor on a collision course in a far location
2. Looming distractor on a near miss course in a far location
3. Looming distractor on a collision course at the six o’clock location
4. Looming distractor on a near miss course at the six o’clock location

  1. View the demo in your web-browser (Caution: animations shown do not result in smooth motion and are only representative of the actual displays)
  2. Download demonstration (as .ppt file)

Warning for Mac Users – This .ppt file requires Microsoft PowerPoint 2004. To open the file, hold down the option button and click the link. Save the file and then use Microsoft PowerPoint 2004 to view the presentation.