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A review of the findings and theories on surface size effects on visual attention

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That surface size has an impact on attention has been well-known in advertising research for almost a century; however, theoretical accounts of this effect have been sparse. To address this issue, we review studies on surface size effects on eye movements in this paper. While most studies find that large objects are more likely to be fixated, receive more fixations, and are fixated faster than small objects, a comprehensive explanation of this effect is still lacking. To bridge the theoretical gap, we relate the findings from this review to three theories of surface size effects suggested in the literature: a linear model based on the assumption of random fixations (Lohse, 1997), a theory of surface size as visual saliency (Pieters et al., 2007), and a theory based on competition for attention (CA; Janiszewski, 1998). We furthermore suggest a fourth model – demand for attention – which we derive from the theory of CA by revising the underlying model assumptions. In order to test the models against each other, we reanalyze data from an eye tracking study investigating surface size and saliency effects on attention. The reanalysis revealed little support for the first three theories while the demand for attention model showed a much better alignment with the data. We conclude that surface size effects may best be explained as an increase in object signal strength which depends on object size, number of objects in the visual scene, and object distance to the center of the scene. Our findings suggest that advertisers should take into account how objects in the visual scene interact in order to optimize attention to, for instance, brands and logos.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2013

    Research areas

  • advertising, eye movements, surface size, visual attention, saliency

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