The primary focus of the research in our lab is to explore low level visual attention in relation to the Visual Indexing Theory. The theory hypothesizes that individual objects or proto-objects in a visual display are indexed so that they can be referred to by subsequent cognitive processes. It can be viewed as a theory of the locus of information-processing limits in visual information intake.

According to the theory, an early stage in visual perception relies on a resource-limited mechanism for the individuation and referencing a small number (4-6) of visual objects. Individuating is more primitive than the encoding of either the properties or locations of the objects in the visual field. It merely entails that the tokens are selected or referenced or indexed as distinct from one another and their historical continuity is maintained. Tokens are individuated by being indexed in the same sense that a data structure in a computer might be indexed: the index serves as a mechanism for accessing the token for subsequent operations.

Much of the current work at the VAL laboratory involves variations of the classic Multiple Object Tracking paradigm (Pylyshyn & Storm, 1988). In these experiments, subjects are required to keep track of a certain number of targets among identical distractors as they all move independently about the screen. This design illustrates the way that FINST are used and can therefore be used to further understanding visual indexing. For examples of these experiments, please see Demos.

For a more comprehensive overview, please refer to either Situating vision in the world (in Trends in Cognitive Science) or Visual Indexes, Preconceptual Objects, and Situated Vision (in Cognition), both of which are in PDF format.