Get Your Guidance Going: Investigating the Activation of Spatial Priors for Efficient Search in Virtual Reality.
Beitner J., Helbing J., Draschkow D., Võ ML-H.
Repeated search studies are a hallmark in the investigation of the interplay between memory and attention. Due to a usually employed averaging, a substantial decrease in response times occurring between the first and second search through the same search environment is rarely discussed. This search initiation effect is often the most dramatic decrease in search times in a series of sequential searches. The nature of this initial lack of search efficiency has thus far remained unexplored. We tested the hypothesis that the activation of spatial priors leads to this search efficiency profile. Before searching repeatedly through scenes in VR, participants either (1) previewed the scene, (2) saw an interrupted preview, or (3) started searching immediately. The search initiation effect was present in the latter condition but in neither of the preview conditions. Eye movement metrics revealed that the locus of this effect lies in search guidance instead of search initiation or decision time, and was beyond effects of object learning or incidental memory. Our study suggests that upon visual processing of an environment, a process of activating spatial priors to enable orientation is initiated, which takes a toll on search time at first, but once activated it can be used to guide subsequent searches.