Salience-based object prioritization during active viewing of naturalistic scenes in young and older adults

Whether fixation selection in real-world scenes is guided by image salience or by objects has been a matter of scientific debate. To contrast the two views, we compared effects of location-based and object-based visual salience in young and older (65 + years) adults. Generalized linear mixed models were used to assess the unique contribution of salience to fixation selection in scenes. When analysing fixation guidance without recurrence to objects, visual salience predicted whether image patches were fixated or not. This effect was reduced for the elderly, replicating an earlier finding. When using objects as the unit of analysis, we found that highly salient objects were more frequently selected for fixation than objects with low visual salience. Interestingly, this effect was larger for older adults. We also analysed where viewers fixate within objects, once they are selected. A preferred viewing location close to the centre of the object was found for both age groups. The results support the view that objects are important units of saccadic selection. Reconciling the salience view with the object view, we suggest that visual salience contributes to prioritization among objects. Moreover, the data point towards an increasing relevance of object-bound information with increasing age.


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