We report a study that examined whether inhibition of return (IOR) is specific to visual search or a general characteristic of visual behavior. Participants were shown a series of scenes and were asked to (a) search each scene for a target, (b) memorize each scene, (c) rate how pleasant each scene was, or (d) view each scene freely. An examination of saccadic reaction times to probes provided evidence of IOR during search: Participants were slower to look at probes at previously fixated locations than to look at probes at novel locations. For the other three conditions, however, the opposite pattern of results was observed: Participants were faster to look at probes at previously fixated locations than to look at probes at novel locations, a facilitation-of-return effect that has not been reported previously. These results demonstrate that IOR is a search-specific strategy and not a general characteristic of visual attention.
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