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Robert Reinhart, Laura McClenahan, Geoffrey Woodman; Visualizing trumps vision when training attention. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):1110. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/15.12.1110.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
There is a strong belief among individuals in scientific, medical, and lay industries (e.g., surgeons, educators, athletes, musicians, and psychiatrists) that imagery can help us improve performance in variety of tasks and situations. The theories that seek to motivate potentially beneficial effects of imagining propose that imagery improves processes late in the stream of information processing. For example, the leading hypotheses propose imagery trains stimulus-response mapping or even simply improves motor control. The present study examined the untested hypothesis that imagery can improve the operation of visual attention, allowing for more efficient selection of task-relevant objects in a visual scene. We designed a task in which we could pit instances of imagery against instances of practicing the same task with visual input. We found that subjects were faster even after a single instance of imagining searching for a target in a visual search array, compared to when they had actually practiced the task with visual input. Recordings of brain activity demonstrate that the electrophysiological measure of focusing attention on the potential target items increased in lockstep with the speeding of subjects’ behavioral responses to the target objects. These neural data demonstrate that imagery training improves the focusing of attention better than practicing the same task with visual input. Using a variant of the paradigm we developed we show that imagery can also induce greater interference than simple task practice, demonstrating the downside of this potent training technique. Next, we replicated the findings and provide a more precise parametric manipulation of the amount of imagined practice to completely characterize the nature of this new phenomenon. Finally, we determine the source of the superiority of imagery over vision. We show that imagining performing the task is superior to actual practice due to memory representations of the task-irrelevant items accumulating during actual practice.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015
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