Changing target trajectories influences tracking performance

Justin M. Ericson, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, USA,
Melissa R. Beck


People have the ability to attentively select and successfully track several moving objects, a process known as multiple-object tracking (MOT; Pylyshyn & Storm Spatial Vision 3: 179-197, 1988). Various factors have been known to influence MOT performance, such as speed, number of distractors, and proximity, while recent work has suggested that object trajectories may also be a factor (Fencsik, Kleiger, & Horowitz Perception and Psychophysics 69: 567-577, 2007). Meanwhile, unexpected changes in motion information have been demonstrated to be a critical facet for attracting attention Howard & Holcombe Attention, Perception & Psychophysics 72: 2087-2095, (2010). Therefore, we suggest that unexpected changes in target trajectories are an important factor in tracking performance. The research presented here controlled for spatial proximity while manipulating the number of instances in which an object changed trajectory. We found that spatial proximity had no effect on tracking performance but, rather, as the number of trajectory changes increased, tracking performance suffered. Results imply that the ability to track multiple moving objects is limited by unexpected changes in direction.