Preliminary investigation of visual attention to human figures in photographs: Potential considerations for the design of aided aac visual scene displays

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Purpose: Many individuals with complex communication needs may benefit from visual aided augmentative and alternative communication systems. In visual scene displays (VSDs), language concepts are embedded into a photograph of a naturalistic event. Humans play a central role in communication development and might be important elements in VSDs. However, many VSDs omit human figures. In this study, the authors sought to describe the distribution of visual attention to humans in naturalistic scenes as compared with other elements. Method: Nineteen college students observed 8 photographs in which a human figure appeared near 1 or more items that might be expected to compete for visual attention (such as a Christmas tree or a table loaded with food). Eye-tracking technology allowed precise recording of participants' gaze. The fixation duration over a 7-s viewing period and latency to view elements in the photograph were measured. Results: Participants fixated on the human figures more rapidly and for longer than expected based on the size of these figures, regardless of the other elements in the scene. Conclusions: Human figures attract attention in a photograph even when presented alongside other attractive distracters. Results suggest that humans may be a powerful means to attract visual attention to key elements in VSDs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1644-1657
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2011


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing

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