Close encounters of the distracting kind: Identifying the cause of visual tracking errors

Gi Yeul Bae, Jonathan I. Flombaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Why can we track only so many objects? We addressed this question by asking when and how tracking errors emerge. To test the hypothesis that many tracking errors are target/nontarget confusions emerging from close encounters, we compared standard multiple-object tracking trials with trials on which a nontarget turned a random color whenever it approached within 4° of a target. This manipulation significantly improved performance by alleviating the correspondence challenge of a close encounter. Two control experiments showed that color change benefits were not merely due to target recovery. Follow-up experiments demonstrated that color change benefits did not accrue monotonically with distance but, instead, seemed to obey a step function; and an additional experiment demonstrated that, without color changes, the frequency of close encounters predicts tracking performance. Taken together, these experiments suggest that uncertainty about target location imposes the primary constraint on tracking, at times causing errors by leading to confusions between targets and nontargets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)703-715
Number of pages13
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • Capacity limits
  • Multiple-object tracking
  • Resolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Close encounters of the distracting kind: Identifying the cause of visual tracking errors'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this