On The Search

an investigation of visual search


What makes some objects easier or harder to find than others? What is the brains behind how we search for things? As children we strengthen our searching skills from simple games such as ‘Where Is Waldo?’ or ‘I Spy’ but as we get older we tend to search for our car keys or friends. In the end, we are always searching. This experiment will test children mainly around the adolescent age on their searching skills.  


Visual Search is looking for something in a cluttered environment. It starts when the brain creates a small image of what it is looking for and ends when the target is found. A series of eye movements scans the visual scene or background of the place where the target could be, the eye focuses on a different 3 to 4 times per second when in search. Some items will attract attention because of visual salience which is an item that is obviously different. The efficiency of search decreases as the similarity among distractors increase.The ability to find a target in a search is affected by the brains memory of what the target looks like.  Having the Target item close to the distractor may help the observer find it easier by the difference. But when items are crowded its harder to identify individuals.

    Due to memory response it is a brain imaging method. For an example radiologist scan mammograms for a sign for tumors in women. This bring attention to the different regions of visual space and how our eye movements work. It is said in research that it takes 40 to 80 seconds for a search and 12 to 15 items are processed through the brain each second. The minimum for a single object to be recognized is greater than 100 milliseconds. Since this isnt as quick as thought keep in mind that multiple items are processed in parallel. Like a car wash metaphor, it would take three minutes for a carwash, but it does not need the first car to be done for the other one to start. So observers look for a target through a set of items (distractors) and reaction time (RT) is measured.

It is actually very difficult for computers to generate a visual search of the human brain. The first form of search is on chapter three of Genesis. Every moment we have our eyes open, we are surrounded by visual information. there are gradual reaction times from easy searched tasks, but the more often the eyes don’t see or notice something, the less likely the brain is to notice it when its actually there. Visual search is most time a thing that we long over or disregard, even though its one of the very few important tools we use for our whole existence.


  If I put the observers target grouped with distractions then will it take longer for the observer to find their target because their visual search will have to analyze every subject to find what they are looking for.



Three sets of photos from Ispy

Sheet of paper to record data

25-50 test subjects     


1.  Let the person see the first image for one minute with the target easily visible

2. Then take that photo away

3. Show the person the second picture of the set with the target in distractions

4. Time them until they find their target

5. Repeat with the other two sets.

6. Record data

7. Repeat this process until you have recorded data for 50 people total.



This project is to study the time it takes for an observer to find their target during visual search. This impacts real life because there are careers in life that reply on people who are good at visual search. Certain doctors who look for tutors and cancer will need a good visual search in order to find those kinds of things in their patients body.


Trial 1   3.95 seconds

Trial 2  3.30 seconds

Trail 3  7.64 seconds


Though this experiment it was observed that once the subject was given time to collect an image in their head it was simpler to find the subject. Also, its easier to find bigger targets than small ones. The evidence to back that up is that trial 1 and 2 had large targets while trial three had a smaller target than the other two. Based on research it is easier for one to find a target that stands out and is large rather than a small target that could blend in among its distractors.


In conclusion, it was easier for the observer to find their target when it was larger rather than smaller, and once they had time for their brain to formulate an image they could find it quicker.

Sources of Error and Innacuracies  

Anything can go wrong with a science experiment, even just small subtle things that you think may not have made a difference. Some errors that could have happened is that the timer might not have been set right. Or possibly the observer might have accidentally seen the target before they were given time to observe it.


This applies to real life for the reason that we are always going to be searching everyday for the rest of our lives. By these results we see that it will take a longer amount of time for an observer to find smaller targets rather than larger ones. In this experiment it showed how we search for things and how long it took to find our target, this is important because it can help scientist who may was to go further into how our brains work when in search and the eye movements the body makes.


This design could have been improved by it being held in a more quieter background where there could be no distractions. To expand on this another experimentation could be to focus maybe on the colors or size that makes something stand out.


1  Busey, T. (n.d.). Visual Search. Cognitive Science Software, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington. Retrieved January 22, 2013, from http://cognitrn.psych.indiana.edu/CogsciSoftware/VisualSearch/

2  CogLab. (n.d.). Experiment: Visual Search. CogLab 2.0 Online Laboratory, Wadsworth Publishing. Retrieved January 22, 2013, from http://coglab.wadsworth.com/experiments/VisualSearch.shtml

3. "Important Statistics Formulas." Statistics Formulas. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Jan. 2015.

4  ScienceDaily. (2009, March 4). The Truth Behind \'Where\'s Waldo?\' Retrieved January 22, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090303161313.htm

5  Handford, M., 1987. Where\'s Waldo? , New York, NY: Little Brown & Co.

6  Marzollo, J., 1992. I Spy: A Book of Picture Riddles, New York, NY: Scholastic.