Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Multiple Object Tracking

There is a growing literature that provides empirical support for Pylyshyn’s theory of seeing and visualizing.  Many of these experiments involve the multiple object tracking paradigm, or MOT (Flombaum, Scholl, & Pylyshyn, 2008; Franconeri, Lin, Pylyshyn, Fisher, & Enns, 2008; Pylyshyn, 2006; Pylyshyn & Annan, 2006; Pylyshyn, Haladjian, King, & Reilly, 2008; Pylyshyn & Storm, 1988; Scholl, Pylyshyn, & Feldman, 2001; Sears & Pylyshyn, 2000).  In the original version of this paradigm (Pylyshyn & Storm, 1988), subjects saw a static display made up of a number of objects of identical appearance.  A subset of these objects blinked for a short period of time, indicating that they were to-be-tracked targets.  Then the blinking stopped, and all objects in the display began to move independently and randomly for a period of about 10 seconds.  Subjects had the task of tracking the targets (with attention only; an monitor ended trials in which eye movements were detected); at the end of a trial one object blinked and subjects had to indicate whether or not it was a target.

The results of this study (Pylyshyn & Storm, 1988) indicated that subjects could simultaneously track up to four independently moving targets with high accuracy.  Multiple object tracking results are explained by arguing that FINSTs are allocated to the flashing targets prior to movement, and objects are tracked by the primitive mechanism that maintains the link from visual object to FINST.  This link permits subjects to judge targethood at the end of a trial.


  1. Flombaum, J. I., Scholl, B. J., & Pylyshyn, Z. W. (2008). Attentional resources in visual tracking through occlusion: The high-beams effect. Cognition, 107(3), 904-931.
  2. Franconeri, S. L., Lin, J. Y., Pylyshyn, Z. W., Fisher, B., & Enns, J. T. (2008). Evidence against a speed limit in multiple-object tracking. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 15(4), 802-808.
  3. Pylyshyn, Z. W. (2006). Some puzzling findings in multiple object tracking (MOT): II. Inhibition of moving nontargets. Visual Cognition, 14(2), 175-198.
  4. Pylyshyn, Z. W., & Annan, V. (2006). Dynamics of target selection in Multiple Object Tracking (MOT). Spatial Vision, 19(6), 485-504.
  5. Pylyshyn, Z. W., Haladjian, H. H., King, C. E., & Reilly, J. E. (2008). Selective nontarget inhibition in Multiple Object Tracking. Visual Cognition, 16(8), 1011-1021.
  6. Pylyshyn, Z. W., & Storm, R. (1988). Tracking of multiple independent targets: Evidence for a parallel tracking mechanism. Spatial Vision, 3, 1-19.
  7. Scholl, B. J., & Pylyshyn, Z. W. (1999). Tracking multiple items through occlusion: Clues to visual objecthood. Cognitive Psychology, 38(2), 259-290.
  8. Sears, C. R., & Pylyshyn, Z. W. (2000). Multiple object tracking and attentional processing. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology-Revue Canadienne De Psychologie Experimentale, 54(1), 1-14.

(Added March 2011)