In more than one respect, visual search for the most salient or the least salient item in a display are different kinds of visual tasks. The present work investigated whether this difference is primarily one of perceptual difficulty, or whether it is more fundamental and relates to visual attention. Display items of different salience were produced by varying either size, contrast, color saturation, or pattern. Perceptual masking was employed and, on average, mask onset was delayed longer in search for the least salient item than in search for the most salient item. As a result, the two types of visual search presented comparable perceptual difficulty, as judged by psychophysical measures of performance, effective stimulus contrast, and stability of decision criterion. To investigate the role of attention in the two types of search, observers attempted to carry out a letter discrimination and a search task concurrently. To discriminate the letters, observers had to direct visual attention at the center of the display and, thus, leave unattended the periphery, which contained target and distractors of the search task. In this situation, visual search for the least salient item was severely impaired while visual search for the most salient item was only moderately affected, demonstrating a fundamental difference with respect to visual attention. A qualitatively identical pattern of results was encountered by Schiller and Lee (1991), who used similar visual search tasks to assess the effect of a lesion in extrastriate area V4 of the macaque.