Visual salience, not the graspable part of a pictured eating utensil, grabs attention

Aiping Xiong, Robert W. Proctor, Howard N. Zelaznik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Three experiments used compatible and incompatible mappings of images of eating utensils to test the hypothesis that these images activate affordances for grasping with the corresponding hand when the required response is a key-press. In Experiment 1, stimuli were photographs of a plastic spoon oriented on the horizontal axis, with the handle location varying randomly between left and right. Participants were instructed to respond to the handle or the tip, with a compatible mapping in one trial block and an incompatible mapping in another. A benefit for the compatible mapping was evident when the spoon tip was defined as relevant and a smaller cost when the handle was defined as relevant, suggesting a larger influence of the tip than the handle. In Experiment 2, the stimuli were photographs of bamboo chopsticks, for which the functional end is pointed and the graspable end is squared. East Asian participants familiar with chopsticks showed compatibility effects that did not differ significantly between the two ends. In Experiment 3, the chopstick handles were colored red to make them relatively more distinct than the tips. Both East Asian participants (Experiment 3B) and a more diverse sample (Experiment 3A) showed a benefit of the compatible mapping when the handle was defined as task relevant but not when the functional end was. Altogether, the results provide evidence that left-right location of a visually salient feature is the main factor driving these compatibility effects, rather than the automatic activation of a grasping affordance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1454-1463
Number of pages10
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 15 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language


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