‘Attentional transplants’ cause recipients to like images similarly to donors: Evidence for inter-observer commonalities in how attention drives preferences

Poster Presentation 53.320: Tuesday, May 21, 2024, 8:30 am – 12:30 pm, Banyan Breezeway
Session: Scene Perception: Ensembles, natural image statistics

Hong B Nguyen1 (), Benjamin van Buren1; 1The New School

When different people view a scene, they attend to different things, and these differences in attention influence how much they like the scene. Patterns of attention may be highly individually specific. However, the effects of different patterns of attention on preferences may not be. Here we demonstrate this, using a new method of ‘attentional transplants’. We show that, if an observer likes an image, it is possible to transplant their viewing pattern into another observer—and that this causes the recipient to like the image better, compared with transplanting the viewing pattern of a donor who disliked the image. In Experiment 1, 50 observers viewed images of landscapes by using their cursor to move a small circular viewing window around each image for three seconds. After viewing each image, they rated how much they liked it. For each image, we identified two ‘attentional donors'—the Liked-it-Best observer who rated the image highest (relative to their other image ratings) across observers, as well as the Liked-it-Least observer who rated the image lowest across observers. Next, we recruited 100 new observers to serve as ‘attentional recipients’. These observers viewed each image, but now passively, through a moving window which reproduced the viewing pattern of either the previous observer who Liked it Best, or the observer who Liked it Least. Recipients gave substantially higher ratings to an image when they received the viewing pattern of the observer who Liked it Best, compared to when they received the viewing pattern of the observer who Liked it Least. In subsequent experiments, we replicated this effect, and found that Liked-it-Best attention patterns are more predictable. We conclude that individual differences in preferences for scenes are partly explained by differences in how we attend—but that attention drives preferences in similar ways across observers.