August 2012
Volume 12, Issue 9
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2012
The heritability and specificity of change detection ability
Author Affiliations
  • Jeremy B. Wilmer
    Department of Psychology, Wellesley College\nDepartment of Psychology, Harvard University
  • Laura Germine
    Department of Psychology, Harvard University
  • Ryan Ly
    Neuroscience Institute, Princeton University
  • Joshua K. Hartshorne
    Department of Psychology, Harvard University
  • Holum Kwok
    Department of Psychology, Wellesley College
  • Hrag Pailian
    Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University
  • Mark A. Williams
    Center for Cognitive Sciences, Macquarie University
  • Justin Halberda
    Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University
Journal of Vision August 2012, Vol.12, 1275. doi:
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      Jeremy B. Wilmer, Laura Germine, Ryan Ly, Joshua K. Hartshorne, Holum Kwok, Hrag Pailian, Mark A. Williams, Justin Halberda; The heritability and specificity of change detection ability. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):1275. doi:

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Experiencing a good change blindness task leads easily to questions of whether, how, and why individuals may differ in their tendency to detect or miss changes. Yet our understanding of individual differences in both change detection and its allied domain of visual working memory remain limited. To address this gap in our knowledge, we conducted two large, web-based studies of change detection using a flicker paradigm where a display of blue and yellow dots flashes on and off, over and over, until the participant detects and clicks on the one dot that is alternating from blue to yellow and back. In our first study (n=1542 unselected web participants), we found that the simple time to detect change (TDC) is highly consistent within individuals across trials; therefore, an individual's TDC ability can be captured reliably in under five minutes (Cronbach's alpha reliability = 0.77). TDC also correlated more highly with a visual working memory test than a vocabulary test (r’s -0.34 and -0.09, respectively; difference p<0.0001), confirming that TDC performance has more to do with visual working memory than with general intelligence or attentiveness. In our second study, the correlation of TDC amongst 205 monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs (r=0.63) was high relative to the upper bound of 0.77 set by TDC's reliability, indicating that TDC is highly familial. Moreover, the correlation of TDC amongst 113 dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs (r=0.37) was much lower than that amongst MZ twin pairs (difference p<0.001), indicating a substantial genetic influence. In sum, flicker change detection is a specific, heritable ability whose ease of measurement makes it an ideal candidate for use in large-scale molecular genetic as well as focused training and intervention studies.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012


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