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Having an internal model of one's attention can be useful for effectively managing limited perceptual and cognitive resources. While previous work has hinted at the existence of an internal model of attention, it is still unknown how rich and flexible this model is, whether it corresponds to one's own attention or to a generic person-invariant schema, and whether it is specified as a list of facts and rules or alternatively as a probabilistic simulation model. To this end, we tested participants' ability to estimate their own behavior in a visual search task with novel displays. In six online experiments (four pre-registered), prospective search time estimates reflected accurate metacognitive knowledge of key findings in the visual search literature, including the set-size effect, higher efficiency of color over conjunction search, and the asymmetric contributions of target and distractor identities to search difficulty. In contrast, estimates were biased to assume serial search, and demonstrated little to no insight into sizeable effects of search asymmetries for basic visual features, and of target-distractor similarity. Together, our findings reveal a complex picture, where internal models of visual search are sensitive to some, but not all, of the factors that make some searches more difficult than others. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

Original publication




Journal article


J Exp Psychol Gen

Publication Date





1951 - 1966


Humans, Prospective Studies, Attention, Metacognition, Computer Simulation, Visual Perception, Reaction Time