They asked volunteers to focus on a particular human figure within the visually cluttered cartoons of the 'Where's Wally?' children's books. The volunteers were then instructed to explain, in their own words, how to find that figure quickly.

The volunteers often opted to indicate the position of the human figure relative to a landmark object in the cartoon, such as a building. The participants tended to use a different word order depending on the visual properties of the landmark.

In a separate experiment, the researchers showed that the most frequently used word order, 'landmark first-target-second', is also the most effective - people who heard descriptions with this order needed on average less time to find the human figure in the cartoon than people who heard descriptions with the reverse order.

These results suggest that people who give directions keep a mental record of which objects in an image are easy to see, prefer to use these as landmarks, and treat them differently than harder-to-see objects when planning the word order of descriptions. The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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