When detecting a salient target makes search more effortful. Academic Article uri icon


  • Prior research has demonstrated two distinct modes of searching a display: singleton detection mode and feature search mode. Due to the explicit template-based attentional control involved in feature search mode, singleton detection mode is often assumed to be less mentally effortful, which can potentially explain why people search using such an inefficient and distraction-prone strategy. However, this assumption remains largely untested. In the present study, we used a hand dynamometer to relate physical effort to perceived mental effort across different search conditions. Surprisingly, across three experiments, participants exerted more effort to avoid singleton detection trials compared to feature search trials, suggesting that they found singleton detection to be the more effortful mode of searching. In a fourth experiment, we removed the physical effort component and simply asked participants to self-report how effortful they perceived each search task to be. Participants robustly indicated that singleton detection trials were more effortful. Lastly, in a fifth experiment, we removed distractor-present trials. Again, participants exerted more effort to avoid singleton detection trials. In contrast to widely held assumptions, our findings suggest that searching for a salient singleton is in fact more mentally effortful than searching for a specific feature in a heterogeneous display, which has broad implications for theories of attentional control and the influence of mental effort on cognition. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

published proceedings

  • J Exp Psychol Gen

author list (cited authors)

  • Lee, D. S., Clement, A., & Anderson, B. A.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Lee, David S||Clement, Andrew||Anderson, Brian A

publication date

  • December 2023