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What Is the Feature Integration Theory?

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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2014
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Feature integration theory is a psychology theory that describes how a person pieces together separate features of an object to create a more complete perception of the said object. This theory especially focuses on the sense of sight and how the eyes absorb information to somehow “experience” the object one is seeing. Aside from perception, feature integration theory also discusses the importance of attention in making a correct view of the observed object.

The development of the feature integration theory is largely credited to Garry Gelade and Anne Treisman, who co-wrote an academic paper entitled “A Feature-Integration Theory of Attention” in the 1980s. In the paper, Treisman and Gelade cited several past experiments that revolve around “visual search,” or the process in which the individual, for example, distinguishes the object’s color and shape apart from other objects. Some experiments, on the other hand, dealt with “texture segregation” to distinguish the object from its background, while other experiments explored the person’s ability to spatially locate the object. In this way, the theory of feature integration suggests that the attributes of a certain object are processed in sequence, especially in situations where the person needs to notice several features to correctly distinguish the object. For example, if a person is looking in a crowd for a male friend who has shoulder-length hair, the first step is to look for people who have shoulder-length hair, and progress into the friend’s distinguishing characteristics that will single him out.

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In general, the feature integration theory describes two primary stages of attention: the pre-attentive and the focused attention stages. In the first stage of pre-attention, the person instinctively and automatically focuses on one distinguishing feature of an object, such as its color and orientation. The person does not really need to make a conscious effort to think in this stage. For example, a person can easily detect a slanted line among horizontal lines on a piece of paper. In the stage of focused attention, the person takes all the features of the object and combines all of them to give a correct perception of the object. This is especially done in situations where the object does not instantly stand out among other objects, such as a red circle among other circles and squares randomly colored red and blue.

Trainings and practices that apply feature integration theory can help a person improve his skills in abstract reasoning and attention. They can also help him be more aware and careful of his surroundings. Teachers can also apply the theory to help students remember their lessons by using a differently-colored chalk or board marker for important key words.

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Post 1
Learning to recognize objects or people based on their distinguishing characteristics can have drawbacks.

When we only look for familiar clues to determine what something is and do not train our brains to notice every feature, our brains get lazy, so to speak.

A good example of the consequences of this recognition by elimination comes in reading.

Studies have shown that our minds only actually read the first one or two letters of a word and use the context of surrounding words to determine the rest.

So, the meaning of the written word can be interpreted differently by each reader based on their understanding of the surrounding words and their reading comprehension skills.

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