Knowing how the target and the distractions are related—including where the target is likely to be amid the distractions and how it varies from them—helps with visual search. It was less clear if the statistical structure of the distractions, which is unrelated to goal attributes, aided in the search. For a study, researchers used unique forms whose relationships to one another were implicitly learned during the visual search to evaluate the value of distractor structure. 

Each trial consisted of either 4 pairs of co-occurring distractor shapes (structured scenes) or 8 distractor forms randomly divided into 4 pairings while the participants searched for the target objects in arrays of shapes (unstructured scenes). 

They discovered that following a period of search training, participants were more effective while looking for objectives in an organized than in unstructured situations across 5 online tests (N = 1,140). Regardless of whether the positions of the forms within each pair were constant or changeable, and despite participants’ lack of explicit knowledge of the structured pairings they had seen, this structural benefit emerged. 

The findings demonstrated that search effectiveness was increased by subconsciously learning co-occurrence statistics between distractor forms. The effectiveness of visual search in natural situations, where such regularities are prevalent, may be enhanced by a more effective rejection of routinely co-occurring distractions.