Global and local covert visual attention: Evidence from a Bayesian hidden Markov model

John Liechty, Rik Pieters, Michel Wedel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Psychological, psychophysical and physiological research indicates that people switch between two covert attention states, local and global attention, while visually exploring complex scenes. The focus in the local attention state is on specific aspects and details of the scene, and on examining its content with greater visual detail. The focus in the global attention state is on exploring the informative and perceptually salient areas of the scene, and possibly on integrating the information contained therein. The existence of these two visual attention states, their relative prevalence and sequence in time has remained empirically untested to date. To fill this gap, we develop a psychometric model of visual covert attention that extends recent work on hidden Markov models, and we test it using eye-movement data. The model aims to describe the observed time series of saccades typically collected in eye-movement research by assuming a latent Markov process, indicative of the brain switching between global and local covert attention. We allow subjects to be in either state while exploring a stimulus visually, and to switch between them an arbitrary number of times. We relax the no-memory-property of the Markov chain. The model that we develop is estimated with MCMC methodology and calibrated on eye-movement data collected in a study of consumers' attention to print advertisements in magazines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)519-541
Number of pages23
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology
  • Applied Mathematics


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