Right Place, Right Time: Spatiotemporal Predictions Guide Attention in Dynamic Visual Search

Sage E.P. Boettcher, Nir Shalev, Jeremy M. Wolfe, Anna C. Nobre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual search is a fundamental element of human behavior and is predominantly studied in a laboratory setting using static displays. However, real-life search is often an extended process taking place in dynamic environments. We have designed a dynamic-search task in order to incorporate the temporal dimension into visual search. Using this task, we tested how participants learn and utilize spatiotemporal regularities embedded within the environment to guide performance. Participants searched for eight instances of a target that faded in and out of a display containing similarly transient distractors. In each trial, four of the eight targets appeared in a temporally predictable fashion with one target appearing in each of four spatially separated quadrants. The other four targets were spatially and temporally unpredictable. Participants’ performance was significantly better for spatiotemporally predictable compared to unpredictable targets (Experiments 1–4). The effects were reliable over different patterns of spatiotemporal predictability (Experiment 2) and primarily reflected long-term learning over trials (Experiments 3, 4), although single-trial priming effects also contributed (Experiment 4). Eye-movement recordings (Experiment 1) revealed that spatiotemporal regularities guide attention proactively and dynamically. Taken together, our results show that regularities across both space and time can guide visual search and this guidance can primarily be attributed to robust long-term representations of these regularities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)348-362
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number2
StatePublished - 29 Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s)


  • Memory
  • Spatial attention
  • Temporal attention
  • Visual search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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