Whether overt attention in natural scenes is guided by object content or by low-level stimulus features has become a matter of intense debate. Experimental evidence seemed to indicate that once object locations in a scene are known, salience models provide little extra explanatory power. This approach has recently been criticized for using inadequate models of early salience; and indeed, state-of-the-art salience models outperform trivial object-based models that assume a uniform distribution of fixations on objects. Here we propose to use object-based models that take a preferred viewing location (PVL) close to the centre of objects into account. In experiment 1, we demonstrate that, when including this comparably subtle modification, object-based models again are at par with state-of-the-art salience models in predicting fixations in natural scenes. One possible interpretation of these results is that objects rather than early salience dominate attentional guidance. In this view, early-salience models predict fixations through the correlation of their features with object locations. To test this hypothesis directly, in two additional experiments we reduced low-level salience in image areas of high object content. For these modified stimuli, the object-based model predicted fixations significantly better than early salience. This finding held in an object-naming task (experiment 2) and a free-viewing task (experiment 3). These results provide further evidence for object-based fixation selection - and by inference object-based attentional guidance - in natural scenes.
Stoll, J., Thrun, M., Nuthmann, A., & Einhäuser, W. (2015). Overt attention in natural scenes: objects dominate features. Vision Research, 107, 36–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.visres.2014.11.006