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Eve Ayeroff, George Alvarez; Individual Differences in Visual Cognitive Abilities. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):1265. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/11.11.1265.
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Individual differences in visual cognitive abilities have been shown to correlate with a variety of important real-world outcomes, such as performance on standardized aptitude tests. Recent research has explored the possibility that various training paradigms can enhance visual cognitive abilities. Of principal interest is whether these interventions will increase other more distant outcome measures, such as performance on standardized tests or in the classroom. As interest in this area is growing, it is increasingly important to develop normed, standardized laboratory tasks that can be used to assess the development of visual cognitive abilities. We have developed such a task battery, which includes measures of visual attention, visual working memory, verbal working memory, and mental rotation ability. Each task requires approximately 8 minutes to administer, and was found to be highly reliable (test-retest reliability ranging from r = .8 to .9), and highly independent of each other (across task correlations less than r = .35 for all pairs of tasks). We have deployed these tasks in field experiments, testing whether an educational intervention affects visual cognitive abilities. Specifically, we are investigating whether doing math with a mental abacus will enhance visual memory, visual attention, and mental rotation ability, but not verbal memory ability. 200 students at the Zenith school in Gujarat India have been randomly assigned to learn to do math with a mental abacus, or to receive additional standard math education. Thus far we have established baseline ability levels for these two groups, which do not differ on any individual task. In follow up studies (March 2011, 2012) we will assess whether mental abacus training affects visual cognitive abilities and classroom performance.
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