Liqiang Huang



Liqiang Huang works in the Department of Psychology,
The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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Research in my lab focuses on visual attention and its role in visual perception, visual awareness and visual working memory, in the following directions:

Boolean Map theory

A primary line of research in this lab is on the Boolean Map theory, which was jointly developed by Huang and Pashler (2007, PR). This theory emphasizes the distinction between selection and access in visual attention (Huang & Pashler, 2007; Huang, 2010, JEPG), and argues that the limits of visual access boil down to a surprisingly simple data format (Huang, Treisman, & Pashler, 2007; Huang & Pashler, 2007, PR): a Boolean map, which is the linkage of a single feature value per dimension associated with a map (i.e., a set of locations). The idea behind this theory can be traced back to Huang and Pashler's earlier work on the role of visual attention in symmetry perception (Huang & Pashler, 2002). Recent studies along this line have generated a few interesting findings: (1) The Boolean map, rather than the object, is the unit of visual access (Huang, 2010, JEPG) (2)Visual access is different from the attentional advantage (Huang, 2010, JEPHPP), even if both are often conflated as “visual attention.” (3) Attention affects the Figure/ground preference by choosing an interpretation that gives a simpler interpretation of the attended region; therefore, paying attention to certain regions could sometimes make them the background rather than the figure (Huang & Pashler, 2009).

Are visual features general in various tasks?

Basic visual features (e.g., color, orientation) are assumed to be processed in the same general way across different visual tasks. For example, a subtler difference, when compared to a larger difference, is believed to be more difficult to perceive, more difficult to find when presented in other items, and more difficult to remember after the stimuli disappears. However, this has not been systematically tested. My first exploration (2015, Psych Sci) on this direction was motivated by a prediction on the basis of the analysis of stimulus spatial structure, as characterized by the Boolean-map notion: A feature that has no spatial structure (e.g., color), should be processed less efficiently than a spatial feature (e.g., orientation) in a task that relies on spatial structure (e.g., change detection) but not in a task that does not (e.g., visual search). A second finding (2015, Scientific Reports) showed that featural strength and visual strength are two dissociable dimensions in processing of visual features: featural strength has substantial effects on high-level tasks but only a negligible effect on a low-level task, whereas visual strength has a substantial effect on a low-level task, but a negligible effect on high-level tasks. A large-scale study (2015, Cognition) adopted an individual-item differences analysis to extract the factors from 16 stimulus types on the basis of their roles in eight tasks, and showed that three orthogonal factors (featural strength, visual strength, and spatial strength) account for almost everything (96.4% of variances) about the roles of these 16 stimulus types in these eight tasks.

Other studies

My other studies also explored topics such as the priming of pop-out (Huang, Holcombe, & Pashler, 2004; Huang & Pashler, 2005, PP), contrast and response gain (Huang & Dobkins, 2005), the dissociation between attentional capacity and task difficulty (Huang & Pashler, 2005, Cognition), the effect of working memory content on visual search (Huang & Pashler, 2007, PBR), and salience (Huang & Pashler, 2005, VR).