How observers distribute limited processing resources to regions of a scene is based on a dynamic balance between current goals and reflexive tendencies. Past research showed that these reflexive tendencies include orienting toward objects that expand as if they were looming toward the observer, presumably because this signal indicates an impending collision. Here we report that during visual search, items that loom abruptly capture attention more strongly when they approach from the periphery rather than from near the center of gaze (Experiment 1), and target objects are more likely to be attended when they are on a collision path with the observer rather than on a near-miss path (Experiment 2). Both effects are exaggerated when search is performed in a large projection dome (Experiment 3). These findings suggest that the human visual system prioritizes events that are likely to require a behaviorally urgent response.
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