Psychology of Design (PoD) Laboratory

Predicting Stimulus-driven Attentional Selection

Designers strive to create products that guide users effectively through an interface. But, currently are unaware of the influences arising from pre-attentive stages of processing. For instance, basic Cognitive Psychology research has shown that collocating task-relevant information with salient visual features reduces search times and often facilitates successful task completion. This is accomplished by implicitly communicating to viewers where they ought to begin their visual search. Salient features are those that are visually unique relative to their surroundings. For example, text that is bolded amongst non-bolded text is salient and implicitly attracts the reader’s attention. However, many interfaces are rich with visual media (e.g., text, pictures, logos and bullets) making the determination of salient features a complicated task. Given this complexity, designers are often forced to make their best guesses about which regions are salient within an interface; this can lead to costly iterative design cycles and more effortful interactions.

We propose that a saliency model can be used to predict which regions of a web page will draw users' stimulus-driven attention. The visual properties of a design contribute to the formation of regions with differing amounts of uniqueness, or salience, producing an initial stimulus-driven pre-attentive bias. Saliency models can account for this bias in scenes that drive the attentional selection. It predicts human behavior by assuming that certain low-level pre-attentive visual features influence overt attention independently of goal-directed processes.

org saliency model

(Original Saliency Model Architecture; Itti, Koch, & Niebur, 1998)

The colocation of salient regions and critical information should be maximized as this increases the interface's usability by decreasing search times. However, further research is needed to translate previous Cognitive Psychology findings into the Human-Computer Interaction design literature.

If we are to use these computing systems safely, effectively, and intuitively, we must understand the human factors that modulate visual search. One critical factor in whether a search will be fast and effortless is visual saliency. If we are searching for an object, it is easier to find one that is visually salient than one that is not. Our lab has previously shown that a computational saliency model can be used to determine an object’s saliency within web pages [ Still & Masciocchi, 2010; Masciocchi & Still, 2013]. We hope that this research line will help future interface designers create easier to search interfaces by aligning user goals with visual saliency.


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