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Humans perform visual search towards targets to adapt to the environment. These sequences of ballistic eye movements are shaped by a combination of top-down and bottom-up factors. Recent research documented that observers display cultural-specific fixation patterns in a range of visual processing tasks. In particular, eye movement strategies extracting facial information, clearly differs between Western Caucasian (WC) and East Asian (EA) observers. However, whether such cultural differences are present during visual scene processing remains debated. Therefore, we recorded eye movements of WC and EA observers while they were solving visual search problems parametrically varying in difficulty: Where’s Waldo. Both groups had a comparable familiarity with the Waldo books reaching a comparable level of accuracy in target detection. Westerners, however, located Waldo faster. Importantly, this modulation of speed was related to differences occurring on the low-level mechanisms of inhibition of return, with EAs returning more often to previously visited locations than the WCs. This suboptimal eye movement strategy in the Easterners might be engendered by their perceptual bias in using more extra-foveal information. Overall, our data point towards the existence of a subtle, but significant difference, in the processing of visual scenes across observers from different cultures during active visual search.
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