Cool (we think) Ongoing Research

The "Width" of Attention During Search

A curious, but often replicated (e.g., Hout & Goldinger, 2010), finding in visual search is that observers have better incidental memory for distractors when the search task is relatively challenging (e.g., when they're looking for a poorly specified target, or searching for multiple targets at one time). One explanation for this is that, when search templates are poorly specified, there is a greater likelihood for distractors to share a feature with the template, and capture attention. Another explanation is that observers simply allocate more attentional resources to the search display when they know that the task is challenging. Juan Guevara Pinto and I tested these hypotheses across several RSVP search tasks during which peripheral distractors occasionally appeared at various eccentricities off center. If challenging search involves greater search stream attention, observers should be more likely to miss peripheral distractors, right? That's exactly what we found! We also found that search performance was correlated with incidental distractor recognition, further confirming that observers do well because of enhanced search stream attention. Juan presented these results at VSS last year. 

Unfamiliar Face Matching has Amnesia

Although people are often described as face perception and recognition experts, this expertise is really only extended to people with whom we are personally familiar. Whereas friends and family members can be recognized across decades, despite myriad changes in their appearance, individuals with whom we are unfamiliar are challenging to recognize, especially after substantial periods of time. Laura Heisick and I recently finished a series of four experiments investigating what people remember about individuals encountered within an unfamiliar face matching task. For example, if you go through airport security, will the TSA agent remember having seen you? Our research suggests that the answer to this question is "no." Although we presented observers in our study with identical images across "study" and test, which confounds person and picture recognition, performance was still barely above chance! We are currently revising the manuscript for resubmission. 

The LPE Transfers across Visual Tasks

Juan Guevara Pinto and I presented the results of several studies on the transfer abilities of the low-prevalence effect in visual search at Psychonomics last year (in fact, Juan won a travel award from the Psychonomic Society for it!). During visual search, observers learned the relative prevalence of two targets (or two categories of targets), inducing an LPE in some of our observers. Later, they completed a series of change-detection trials in which the high- or low-prevalence targets could appear. Observers who were sensitive to the LPE during visual search were also impaired during the change detection trials (with the low-prevalence target). This occurred even when the change detection target was only categorically related to the search target! We can't really express how cool we think this is, and are conducting a series of follow-up investigations with Stephen Walenchok from ASU.

Using Memory to Reject Novel Experiences

Recognition memory is one of the most well-studied areas in cognitive science. Decades of research have revealed highly-replicable phenomena (e.g., word frequency effects, mirror effects, etc.) and generated intense theoretical debate. We recently explored questions about metamemory processes in the rejection of experiences (i.e., knowing that something was not recently encountered). This process is important, as it helps us to avoid experiencing déjà vu every time we meet a new person. Across two experiments, we manipulated word frequency, context variability, and response deadlines to examine their impacts on old/new accuracy and metacognitive assessments (e.g., deciding that something is new because otherwise it would have been remembered). We observed clear effects of item characteristics in metacognitive rejection strategies, such that highly memorable items were rejected on the basis of their memorability. Response deadlines also affected performance in interesting ways: Rejecting memorable items was unaffected by shortening the decision duration, suggesting a rapid appreciation of memorability.

Contextual Expectations Influence Incidental Memory

Remembering to fulfill an intention at a later time requires people to monitor the environment for cues that it is time to act. This monitoring process involves the strategic and flexible allocation of attentional resources: Some contexts make us ramp up attention while others allow us to disengage and focus on something else. This sort of flexible attention can have an impact on our ongoing task behaviors, our ability to remember to fulfill intentions, and our memory for what we encountered along the way. We investigated how the precision of contextual expectations influenced participants' incidental memory formation using a prospective memory task: As shown to the right, participants completed a color-matching task in which their job was to tell us whether the font of a word appearing after 4 colored polygons matched any of those 4 colors. While doing this, they also monitored for a PM target (e.g., the words corn or dancer). We gave them different contextual expectations about when to expect those targets. Some participants were told the identity of a specific polygon that PM targets would follow, if they appeared (a probabilistic cue). Others were told that PM targets would only follow one type of polygon, but not which. Others were given no information. We found that participants with specific contextual expectations successfully disengaged from monitoring on low expectation trials. On high expectation trials, however, they ramped up attention and incidentally encoded more non-PM words.

PM trial schematic.jpg