Search for the Unknown: Guidance of Visual Search in the Absence of an Active Template

Oryah C. Lancry-Dayan*, Matthias Gamer, Yoni Pertzov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Can you efficiently look for something even without knowing what it looks like? According to theories of visual search, the answer is no: A template of the search target must be maintained in an active state to guide search for potential locations of the target. Here, we tested the need for an active template by assessing a case in which this template is improbable: the search for a familiar face among unfamiliar ones when the identity of the target face is unknown. Because people are familiar with hundreds of faces, an active guiding template seems unlikely in this case. Nevertheless, participants (35 Israelis and 33 Germans) were able to guide their search as long as extrafoveal processing of the target features was possible. These results challenge current theories of visual search by showing that guidance can rely on long-term memory and extrafoveal processing rather than on an active search template.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1404-1415
Number of pages12
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • eye movements
  • memory
  • open data
  • open materials
  • preregistered
  • template
  • visual search


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