Flicker Observer Effect: Guiding Attention Through High Frequency Flicker in Images

N. Waldin, M. Waldner, I. Viola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Drawing the user's gaze to an important item in an image or a graphical user interface is a common challenge. Usually, some form of highlighting is used, such as a clearly distinct color or a border around the item. Flicker can also be very salient, but is often perceived as annoying. In this paper, we explore high frequency flicker (60 to 72 Hz) to guide the user's attention in an image. At such high frequencies, the critical flicker frequency (CFF) threshold is reached, which makes the flicker appear to fuse into a stable signal. However, the CFF is not uniform across the visual field, but is higher in the peripheral vision at normal lighting conditions. Through experiments, we show that high frequency flicker can be easily detected by observers in the peripheral vision, but the signal is hardly visible in the foveal vision when users directly look at the flickering patch. We demonstrate that this property can be used to draw the user's attention to important image regions using a standard high refresh-rate computer monitor with minimal visible modifications to the image. In an uncalibrated visual search task, users could in a crowded image easily spot the specified search targets flickering with very high frequency. They also reported that high frequency flicker was distracting when they had to attend to another region, while it was hardly noticeable when looking at the flickering region itself.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)467-476
Number of pages10
JournalComputer Graphics Forum
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s) Computer Graphics Forum © 2017 The Eurographics Association and John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Categories and Subject Descriptors (according to ACM CCS):
  • H.5.2 [Computer Graphics]: User Interfaces—Evaluation/methodology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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