When it comes to SERPs, and what users choose from the array of results, Google says, “Our User Experience Research team has found that people evaluate the search results page so quickly that they make most of their decisions unconsciously.” I could have told them that for a free Google mug. And maybe a Google Frisbee.
Search engines, like any object you use on a routine basis, becomes an extension of your senses. Are we really surprised that a thumbnail in universal search draws attention? No. It’s the contrast to a plain. It’s a key component to effective design, photography, and even magic tricks. But what Google determines from this study is that the thumbnails in the SERPs are also not a distraction if they don’t fit the kind of information a specific user seeking.