Object Quest

When searching for something, what it looks like is not the only thing we rely upon.

Our interactions with the world are guided by what we understand objects’ physical properties to be. What we know about an object is as important as how it looks.

Physical characteristics – like hardness or durability – figure in when looking for a specific object. “If you are searching for a sweater in a cluttered room, without any awareness of doing so you are able to avoid wasting time searching through the hard objects in the room and instead focus on the soft ones,” observed cognitive neuroscientist Jason Fischer.

“Simply knowing the latent physical properties of objects is enough to help guide your attention to them,” observed Fischer. Physical consistency – hardness/softness – is a prominent trait that figures into both object manipulation and search.

“In the back of our minds, we are always evaluating the physical content of a scene,” Fischer said. “Our mental intuitive physics engines are constantly at work to guide not only how we interact with things in our environment, but how we distribute our attention among them as well.”


Li Guo et al, “Knowledge of objects’ physical properties implicitly guides attention during visual search,” Journal of Experimental Psychology (2020).

What we can’t see can help us find things,” ScienceDaily (12 May 2020).